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Norman : university of Oklahoma press : 1945 

4*7. 3 


Dedicated to the old-timers who used, the saddle for a workbench 
in making history, to the modern cowhands who are still 
using a saddle for their throne in upholding a tradition, and 
to future cowmen who will never forsake this saddle for a 
jalopy to help them over the rough places. 

"A cowboy is a man with guts and a boss" 





"There ain't much paw and heller to a cowboy" 

They say a good range cook never misses a rock when "herding" his 
teams across the country. I hope that, like him, I have not missed many- 
words from the cowman's vocabulary in compiling this lexicoi My 
greatest pleasure in collecting the material has been in associating with 
the cowboy in his native haunts. Never loquacious around strangers, he 
has attained the reputation of being about as talkative as a Piegan Indian. 
But I learned, as a small boy, that when one becomes intimate with him, 
he "don't depend entirely on the sign language." Among his own kind 
he is never "hog-tied when it comes to makin' chin music." In fact, if 
he accepts you, his tongue gets "plumb frolicsome." 

From first youthful impressions, my interest in his speech has grown 
until recording it has become the hobby of a lifetime. When a tender- 
foot hears this range vernacular— distinctive, picturesque, and pungent- 
he is as surprised as a dog with his first porcupine. After he recovers 
from the shock of such unconventional English, the more he listens the 
more refreshing it becomes, because, like a fifth ace in a poker deck, it 
is so unexpected. 

Never having had a chance to "study the higher branches of infor- 
mation through book learnin'," the native cowman forged his own 
language. Like other men of the soil, he created similes and metaphors, 
salty and unrefined, but sparkling with stimulating vigor. In the early 
days, many men with college degrees came west, fell in love with the 
freedom of range life, and remained. Not bound by conventions, thev 
were not long in "chucking" their college grammar and drifting into 
the infectious parlance of the cow country. I have never yet met a 
cowman who didn't use it naturally and unconsciously, be he educated 
or otherwise. 

Within the cowman's figures of speech lie the rich field of his subtle 
humor and strength— unique, original, full-flavored. With his usually 
limited education he squeezes the juice from language, molds it to suit 
his needs, and is a genius at making a verb out of anything. He "don't 
have to fish 'round for no decorated language to make his meanin' clear," 
and has little patience with the man who "spouts words that run eight 
to the pound." 


Western Words 

Perhaps the strength and originality in his speech are due to the 
solitude, the nearness of the stars, the bigness of the country, and the 
far horizons— all of which give him a chance to think clearly and go into 
the depths of his own mind. Wide spaces "don't breed chatterboxes." 
On his long and lonely rides, he is not forced to listen to the scandal 
and idle gossip that dwarf a man's mind. Quite frequently he has no 
one to talk to but a horse that can't talk back. 

William MacLeod Raine told me that he once heard his friend Gene 
Rhodes call a man a "rancid, left-handed old parallelogram." Who but 
a Westerner could put so much punch into a phrase? Who but a cow- 
man would say of a gesticulating foreigner that "he couldn't say 'hell' 
with his hands tied"? Or think of a better figure for hunger than 
"hungrier'n a woodpecker with the headache"? 

"The frontiersman, like the Indian," says Edward Everett Dale, 
"was a close observer. He saw every detail and in speaking of something 
he did not describe it. Rather he painted a picture in a single apt phrase— 
a picture so clear and colorful that description was unnecessary. He did 
not tell the listener— he preferred to show him— and show him he did 
with one pungent, salty phrase that often meant more than could long 
and detailed explanation." 1 

Unlettered men rely greatly upon comparisons to natural objects 
with which they are familiar to express their ideas and feelings. Mental 
images are a part of the life of a cowman. His comparisons are not only 
humorous, but fruity and unf aded. One cowhand spoke of a friend who 
had gone into a city barbershop to experience his first manicure with, 
"He's havin' his forehoofs roached and rasped by a pink and white 
pinto filly." A certain fiery old-timer was said to be "gettin' 'long in 
years, but his horns ain't been sawed off." 

"Calm as a hoss trough," "pretty as a red heifer in a flower bed," 
"soft as a young calf's ears," "useless as a knot in a stake rope," "a heart 
in his brisket as big as a saddle blanket," "noisy as a calf corral," and 
"gals in them days didn't show much of their fetlocks" are but a few 
of the many examples of homely comparisons cowmen create. 

One of the inherent characteristics of the cowboy is exaggeration. 
Not only does he have a talent for telling tall tales, but he has a genius 
for exaggeration in ordinary conversation. In the following examples 
the ordinary man would be content to use the unitalicized words, but 
the cowman wants more strength and he adds words such as the italicized 
ones to gain this potency: "so drunk he couldn't hit the ground with 
his hat in three throws" "raised hell and put a chunk under it" "his 

1 "Speech of the Frontier," an address at the Association Banquet, Central 
States Speech Association, Oklahoma City, April i, 1941. 



tongue hangin' out a foot and forty inches" and "he'd fight y'u till hell 
freezes over, then skate with y'u on the ice" 

Another pronounced trait is the pithy, yet robust humor which 
continually crops out in his speech. Struthers Burt writes, ". . . this close- 
ness with nature makes the cowboy exceedingly witty. They are the 
wittiest Americans alive. Not wisecracking like the city man, but really 
witty." 2 

The cowman has always reserved control of his spelling and pro- 
nunciation, completely ignoring the dictionary. He pronounces his 
Spanish as it sounds to his ear, and thus new words have been created; 
for instance, hackamore (from jdquima) and hoosgoiv (from juzgado). 

"Just as the cowboy 'borrowed' much of his traditional 'riggin' ' 
from the vaquero," wrote S. Omar Barker, "and adapted it to his own 
needs, so, too, he borrowed freely from this vaquero's word supply, 
which he also adapted. He borrowed 'by ear,' of course, and so plenti- 
fully that today much typical western terminology owes its origin to 
Spanish, however little it sometimes resembles the original either in 
spelling or pronunciation." 3 

Like all other Americans, the cowman is in a hurry and employs our 
typical shortening of words and phrases. His grammar is rough and 
rugged like his hills and canyons, but his short cuts are practical. Thus 
he creates words such as lariat, from la reata; chaps, from chaparejos; 
and dally, from dar vuelta. 

Yet in his actions he is not hurried, but takes time to examine small 
things. He gets the habit of "usin' his eyes a lot and his mouth mighty 
little." He catalogs each detail and stores it away in his mind for future 
use, squeezing out all significant items and adding their essence to his 
refreshing philosophy. He has a talent for "sayin' a whole lot in a mighty 
few words," and "don't use up all his kindlin' to get his fire started." 

Not only did the cowman borrow from the Spanish, but he took 
what he wanted from the Indian, the trapper, and the freighter who 
preceded him, and from the gambler, the gunman, and others who came 
after him. 

The terms recorded in this volume have been gathered from every 
part of the range. There are genuine cowmen who may disclaim ever 
having heard of certain ones. This can easily be true, just as throughout 
our country one section is unfamiliar with the colloquialisms of an- 
other. When the East-Sider ridicules the Southerner's you-all, he doesn't 

2 Struthers Burt, Powder River (New York, Farrar & Rinehart, 1938), 229. 
3 S. Omar Barker, "Sagebrush Spanish," New Mexico Magazine, XX, No. 12 
(December, 1942), 18. 


Western Words 

stop to think that his own youse guys is just as comical and ridiculous 
south of Mason and Dixon's line. 

Different sections of the West also have their own peculiar argot. 
As Will James said, "A feller wrote a review of my books one time, 
without being asked, and he said something about my language not 
being true cowboy language. As I found out afterwards, that feller 
had been a cowboy all right enough, but I also found out that he'd only 
rode in one state all his life. He'd compared his language with mine and 
mine had been picked up and mixed from the different languages from 
the different parts of the whole cow country. The language of the cow 
country is just as different as the style of the rigs and ways of working." 4 

The Texan says pitch; the northern cowboy says buck; yet they 
mean the same thing. Likewise, the Texan's stake rope becomes picket 
rope on the northern range, and cinch in the North becomes girth when 
it hits the South. These are but a few examples of many that could be 
mentioned. California, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, and Idaho use terms 
rarely heard in the rest of the range country. 

When Texas first went into the cattle business, it adopted the Mexi- 
can's methods and equipment— big-horned saddles, spade bit, rawhide 
rope, system of "dallying," and all the rest. The massacre at the Alamo 
stirred in Texans a fierce hatred of all things Mexican and brought 
changes in following the customs of the Spanish vaquero. The long 
rope and system of "dallying" disappeared, and Texas became a "tie- 
fast" country. The grazing bit was substituted for the spade and ring 
bits, and the Spanish rig gave way to the double-rigged saddle. 

But the language of the Mexican had deeper roots. This the Texan 
kept and corrupted to suit his needs. The cattle business of California 
was also born under Spanish influence, but it had no Alamo, no Goliad. 
Today it still uses the Spanish rig, the long rope, the spade bit, and the 
dally. Many other Spanish customs dominate, and the language has been 
less corrupted. 

When the Texan rode over the long trails north, he carried his 
customs and his manner of working all the way to the Canadian line. 
Montana, Wyoming, and other northern and central states adopted 
much of his Spanish-influenced language. In exchange, the northern 
cowman gave the Texan that which he had appropriated from the 
northern Indian and the French-Canadian, words strange to the man 
from the Rio Grande. 

Many cowmen, yearning to see what was "on the other side of 
the hill," or being forced to go where they "could throw a rope without 
gettin' it caught on a fence post," were like a tumbleweed drifting be- 

4 Will James, Lone Cowboy (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1930), 226. 


fore a wind. They scattered their language until it no longer remained 
a "boggy crossin' " for a cowman from another section. 

Yet, even today, there are some who have never been off their 
home range; and to them portions of this collection will seem strange. 
One old-timer told me that he had never heard the word coivpuncher 
until he was an old man. Of course, it is a comparatively recent word, 
having come into use with the moving of cattle by train and the closing 
of the trails. Now the majority prefer it to cowboy, for the word 
cowboy has more or less borne a stigma for many years. Yellow journal- 
ists, during the trail days, spread the cowboy's reputation for woolliness 
far and wide. He was pictured as a demon of death and disaster. Mothers 
even threatened their unruly offspring with the coming of this evil one. 

And so almost every cowman chooses to be called puncher, cow- 
hand, or just plain hand. But no matter by what name he is called, the 
working cowhand is called "plenty early in the mornin'." 

Cowhands are neither so plentiful nor so picturesque as they were 
in the days of the open range, and with the passing of its customs, many 
of their terms are becoming obsolete. This volume has been prepared 
to help preserve this lingo for posterity. As long as we are a nation of 
meat-eaters, I am not afraid that the cowboy himself will become extinct, 
but some of his older language may die with the passing years. However, 
he will create new idioms typical of the range as long as he forks a horse. 
Furthermore, living in the tradition of men who rode semiwild horses 
to work obstinate, unruly cattle, he will never become so soft that he 
will pack a lunch, wear his sleeves rolled up, and say my gracious instead 
of goddam when he is mad. 


"A full house divided don't win no pots" 

Many years ago, my "roundup" of the lingo of the cowboy became 
so copious that I arrived at the decision to move some of it, grass finished 
though it was, to shipping pens, and thence to market. Riding herd 
over it had been a keen but solitary pleasure for nearly twenty years. 
It seemed to me, as it must to most cowmen, that a reasonably well 
filled-out herd is not for the keeping, but for the sharing. My Cowboy 
Lingo, published in 1936, was the result. Its reception was sufficiently 
gratifying to justify my previous course in pasturing the stuff out of 
sight for so long. Since its publication, many of its terms have been 
used in stories by writers of "westerns"; and western story magazines 
are reflecting current interest in the subject by conducting columns and 
departments on this jargon of the range, cow camp, and trail. 

Letters from philologists, authors, and editors asking for more ex- 
amples of this lusty speech have encouraged the preparation of Western 
Words. Yet the completed volume would not have been possible with- 
out the help of others, who contributed expressions, defined words, gave 
other definitions, dug up sources of phrases, and added colorful anec- 

First, I want to thank the host of sun-tanned, grin-wrinkled cow- 
hands I have met upon the range and the old-timers with whom I have 
talked at cowmen's conventions throughout the West. They are too 
many to name. Besides, they are of the breed whose mention in a book 
would make them as uncomfortable as a camel in the Klondike. To 
them I can only say muy gracias. This volume is largely theirs, and I 
hope it will serve as a monument to their picturesque speech. 

The authors I quote are not those "town-gaited" writers who have 
never been closer to a cow than a milk wagon. They have lived the life, 
and you may have confidence in their knowledge. I extend thanks to 
the following writers, each of whom I am proud to list as a personal 
friend: J. Frank Dobie, W. S. Campbell (Stanley Vestal), Edward Ever- 
ett Dale, J. Evetts Haley, Foster-Harris, William MacLeod Raine, Agnes 
Wright Spring, Jack Potter, John M. Hendrix, and the late George 

I am also grateful to these writers, with whom I have corresponded 


Western Words 

and whose co-operation has been most helpful: Philip A. Rollins, Harold 
W. Bentley, the late Will James, Agnes Morley Cleaveland, Dick Halli- 
day, W. M. French, Bruce Clinton, and "Don," who wishes to remain 

I am no less grateful to Eugene Cunningham, Ross Santee, E. W. 
Thistlethwaite, the late Will C. Barnes, and all others whom I have 
quoted in citations. 

I especially wish to thank Cattleman magazine and its former edi- 
tor, Tad Moses; Western Horseman magazine and its former editor, 
Paul Albert; and all the publishers who so generously allowed me to 
quote from books in their lists. 

Last, but by no means least, I wish to acknowledge a debt of grate- 
ful obligation to Elizabeth Ann McMurray, bookdealer and lover of all 
literature of the West, for her continued interest, faith, and encourage- 
ment. She has been unceasing in her efforts to spur my own energies 
to the riding of the "final horse." Thanks are extended, also, to E. 
DeGolyer for his sustained and stimulating interest. Without the urging 
of such good friends, this volume would have perhaps been hazed into 
the "cut backs" until the old man with the hay hook "come along." 

Rounding up this bunch of strays, driving them to the home range, 
and cutting them into the proper herds has been a long, hard work. The 
brush has been thick, the coulees rough, and the quicksands boggy. 
Yet all my saddlesores are healed by the thought that this bob-tail may 
fill some hand long after I've "sacked my saddle." You can now ride 
the same trail at a high lope without rope or running iron, but you'll 
miss the fun I had in dragging these mavericks to the branding fire. 

Ramon F. Adams 

Dallas, Texas 

September i$, 1944 




"A wink's as good as a nod to a blind mule" 

ace in the hole 

A shoulder holster, a hideout. A man's 
ace in the hole might take various forms, 
as the carrying of his gun in the waist- 
band, in a boot-leg, or in some other un- 
expected place. 

acion (ah-the-on') 

Stirrup leather. A Spanish term some- 
times used on the southern border and 
in California. 

acorn calf 

A runty calf, a weakling. 


See cut his wolf loose, get down to 

adios (ah-de-os') 

A Spanish word (meaning literally to 
God,) commonly used in the border cattle 
country as an expression of friendly 
leave-taking equivalent to the English 
good-bye, so long, or I'll see you later. 

adobe (ah-do'bay) 

A mud brick made from clay that ad- 
heres compactly when wet. After being 
mixed with water and straw, it is cast 
into wooden molds about 18 by 6 by 10 
inches in dimension. When taken from 
the molds, these bricks are placed in the 
hot sun and allowed to dry and bake. 
They are a common building material in 
the sections under Spanish influence. The 
word is also used in referring to a house 
built of adobe — usually shortened to 
'dobe. The word is also used by the cow- 
boy in referring to anything of inferior 
quality. (Harold W. Bentley, Diction- 
ary of S-panish Terms in English [New 
York, Columbia University Press, 1932], 
87). The Mexican silver dollar is some- 
times spoken of as a 'dobe because the 
cowman holds it to be of small value. 


See hold the high card. 

advertisin' a leather shop 

Said of a tenderfoot dressed up in ex- 
aggerated leather "trimmin's," such as 
boots, chaps, cowhide vest, leather cuffs, 
etc. Charlie Nelms pointed out to me one 
dressed in hairy chaps and vest with the 
remark that "from the hair he's wearin' 
y'u'd think it's cold 'nough to make a 
polar bear hunt cover, and here it's hot 
as hell with the blower on." 


Said of a man without a horse. A man 
afoot on the range is looked upon with 
suspicion by most ranchers and is not 
welcome when he stops for food or shel- 
ter, unless he can prove that he belongs 
to the country and that his being afoot 
is caused by some misfortune. It has al- 
ways been the custom of the range coun- 
try to regard a man as "a man and a 
horse," never one without the other. 
Even cattle have no fear of a man afoot, 
and he is in danger of being attacked. 
One of the old sayings of the West is, 
"A man afoot is no man at all." He can 
not do a man's work without a horse and 
is useless in cow work. Teddy Blue used 
to say, "There's only two things the old- 
time puncher was afraid of, a decent 
woman and bein' left afoot." 

airin' the lungs 

What the cowboy calls "cussin'," 
which seems to be a natural part of his 
language ; and he has a supply of words 
and phrases that any mule skinner would 
"be happy to get a copy of." As one 
cowman said, "The average cowhand 
ain't pickin' any grapes in the Lord's 
Vineyard, but neither's he tryin' to bust 
any Commandments when he cusses. It 

Western Words 

jes' sets on his tongue as easy as a hoss- 
fly ridin' a mule's ear, and he can shore 
cram plenty o' grammar into it." 

airin' the paunch 



Canned goods. Today we can buy 
anything in cans from pie dough to po- 
tato strings, but the open-range cowboy 
rarely saw any canned foods other than 
corn, tomatoes, peaches, and milk. 


A horse ranging in color from a pure 
white with a blue, or "glass," eye to a 
cream too light to be considered a palo- 

alforja (al-for'hah) 

A Spanish word meaning saddlebag 
or portmanteau. Americanized, it is a 
wide, leather or canvas bag, one of which 
hangs on each side of a packsaddle from 
the crosses on the top of the saddle. Eng- 
lish modifications are alforge, alforche, 
alforki, and alforka (Philip A. Rollins, 
The Cowboy [New York, Charles Scrib- 
ner's Sons, 1936], 155). 


Acclimated to the country; said of 
one who has lived in the country a long 
time; also of one who drinks alkaline 
water. Most of the men considered old- 
timers had been living in the country so 
long that, in the language of the cow- 
boy, "They knowed all the lizards by 
their first names, except the younger set." 

all hands and the cook 

This phrase signifies an emergency. 
It is used when every hand is called to 
guard the herd, when the cattle are 
unusually restless or there is imminent 
danger of a stampede. 

all horns and rattles 

Said of one displaying a fit of temper. 
A man in this mood, as one cowboy said, 
"maybe don't say nothin', but it ain't safe 
to ask questions." 

all-round cow horse 

One good at performing any duty, as 
cutting, roping, etc. 


To go; to go leisurely. The cowboy 
very often uses this term as, "I'm goin' to 
amble over to the north pasture." 


See bushwhack, dry gulch, lay for. 

amigo (ah-mee'go) 

A Spanish word commonly used in the 
Southwest, meaning friend, good fellow, 
or companion. 

among the willows 

Said of one dodging the law. 


See burro load, poco. 

andale (ahn'dah-lay) 

The Spanish andar means move, stand 
out of the way, plus le meaning you 
(thou). It is commonly used by Spanish- 
speaking cowboys as hurry up, get a move 
on, get going. Because it is easier on the 
vocal organs, they frequently yell this 
in place of longer English phrases at 
cattle being driven. 


See all horns and rattles, arches his 
back, cabin fever, dig up the tomahawk, 
easy on the trigger, frothy, get a rise 
from, get his back up, get his bristles up, 
haul in your neck, horning the brush, 
horn-tossin' mood, on the peck, on the 
prod, on the warpath, paint for war, red- 
eyed, riled, sharpens his horns, sod- 
pawin' mood, techy as a teased snake, 
wash off the war paint. 


A frequently used slang name for 
chaps made of goat hide with the hair 
left on. 


A bull. The cowboy will use any word 
to avoid calling a spade a spade in the 
presence of ladies. In earlier times bull 
was a word unsuited for parlor use, but 
today we are not so modest, and we hear 
throwing the bull on every hand. 


See cat, cimarron, hooter, javalina, 
ketch dog, kip pile, lobo, medicine wolf, 


nice kitty, otie, pack rat, painter, pikets, 
prairie lawyers, rooter, sachet kitten, 
stand, wolf, wood pussy, wooshers. 

anquera (an-kay'rah) 

From the Spanish meaning a round 
covering for the hindquarters of a horse ; 
semilunar tailpiece of a saddle. Ameri- 
cans use this term as meaning the broad 
leather sewn to the base of the cantle 
when there is no rear jockey, and extend- 
ing beyond the cantle. 


The cowboy's description of going 
diagonally or in a roundabout way. 


When a traveling horse strikes his fore- 
feet with his hind ones, especially if he is 
shod all around. See forging. 

aparejo (ah-pah-ray'ho) 

Spanish, meaning facksaddle. This is a 
form of packsaddle composed merely of 
a large leather pad about twenty-eight 
inches wide and thirty-six inches long. It 
is made double and stuffed to a thickness 
of two or more inches. Attached to it is a 
wide cinch and an exceptionally wide 
breeching which fits close under the 
animal's tail, like a crupper. Since it is 
not equipped with sawbucks like the ordi- 
nary packsaddle, kyacks can not be used 
with it. Anything can be packed on it, 
but it is especially designed for heavy, 
awkward loads that can not be handled 
on ordinary packsaddles. Today it is be- 
coming scarce, and consequently good 
aparejo men are rare. 


A breed of horse whose distinguishing 
characteristics are the color spots on the 
rump, a lack of hair on the tail and in- 
side the thigh, a good deal of white in 
the eye, and pink on the nose. This par- 
ticular breed was developed by the Nez 
Perce Indians in the Pelouse River coun- 
try. There are several explanations of 
the origin of the word affaloosa. Some 
writers contend the word comes from the 
Spanish noun felusa (since this feminine 
noun means down •which covers flants 
or fruits, it is certainly not applicable) ; 
others claim the spelling is Affaluchi 

and, with a vivid imagination, connect 
it with the Appalachian Mountains. 

Yet it is easy to discover the correct 
origin of the spelling of the word. In 
the early days no one had occasion to 
write the name, and as a spoken term the 
two words a Pelouse were corrupted into 
affalousy, which, in turn, became af- 
faloosa. The spelling is merely an en- 
deavor to follow the Nez Perce pronun- 
ciation of stressing the final e. (F. D. 
Haines, "The Appaloosa, or Palouse 
Horse," Western Horseman, II, No. i 
[January— February, 1937], 8-9; "More 
Care in Breeding Spotted Horses," 
Western Horseman, III, No. 2 [March- 
April, 1938], 30—31; Robert M. Den- 
hardt, "Peculiar Spotted Ponies," Cattle- 
man, XXVI, No. 6 [November, 1939], 


See bulge, show up on the skyline. 


A slang name for the horn of the sad- 


The name given the style of saddle 
used in the eighties. It was so named 
from the small horn whose top was 
round like an apple, compared to the 
broad ones of the saddles it replaced. 

apron-faced horse 

One with a large white streak on the 


A green hand. Called this on the as- 
sumption that the boss sent off Arbuckle 
coffee premium stamps to pay for his 
"extraordinary" services. 


The brand of coffee so common on the 
range that most cowmen never knew 
there was any other kind. Coffee is the 
first thing on the fire at the cook's "roll 
out," long before day; and throughout 
the day and night, if camp is not to be 
moved, the pot nests on hot coals so that 
the hands can have a cup at the change 
of guard. Nothing else the cook can do 
will make the cowboy hold him in such 
high esteem as keeping the coffee hot 
and handy. 

Western Words 

The old-time wagon cook loved to tell 
the tenderfoot his favorite recipe for 
making cowboy coffee. With the greatest 
of secrecy he would say: "Take two 
pounds of Arbuckle's, put in 'nough 
water to wet it down, boil for two hours, 
and then throw in a hoss shoe. If the 
hoss shoe sinks, she ain't ready." The 
cowman likes his coffee to "kick up in 
the middle and pack double." 

arches his back 

Said of an angry person, of a horse 
preparing to buck. 

Arizona nightingale 

A prospector's burro. Called this be- 
cause of his extraordinary bray. 

Arizona tenor 

A coughing tubercular. 

Arizona trigger 

A cattle-trap consisting of a sort of 
chute going into a watering place, which 
is left wide open at first so that the cattle 
will get used to going into it. Then, 
when the cattle are to be caught, the 
chute is narrowed down at the inside 
so that the cattle can get in but can not 
get out. 

Arkansas toothpick 

A large sheath knife 5 a dagger. 

armitas (ar-mee'tas) 

From the Spanish armar, meaning to 
arm or to flate with anything that may 
add, strength. Well-cut aprons, usually 
made of home-tanned or Indian buck- 
skin and tied around the waist and knees 
with thongs. They protect the legs and 
clothes and are cooler to wear in summer 
than chaps. Their use practically passed 
with old-time range customs, although 
they are still used to some extent, espe- 
cially in Southern California. (Dick 
Halliday to R. F. A.) 


See ace in the hole, Arkansaw tooth- 
pick, artillery, belly gun, black-eyed 
susan, blow pipe, blue lightnin', blue 
whistler, border draw, border shift, buf- 
falo gun, buscadero belt, caught short, 
credits, cross draw, Curly-Bill spin, cut- 
ter, derringer, dewey, double roll, draw, 
equalizer, fill your hand, flame thrower, 

forty-five, forty-four, gambler's gun, 
gun, hair trigger, hardware, heeled, 
hide-out, hogleg, iron, Kansas neck- 
blister, lead chucker, lead plum, lead 
pusher, man-stopper, meat in the pot, 
no beans in the wheel, old cedar, old 
reliable, one-eyed scribe, open-toed hol- 
ster, parrot bill, peacemaker, persuader, 
plow-handle, road agent's spin, scatter- 
gun, Sharps, shootin' iron, single roll, 
six-gun, skinning knife, smoke wagon, 
stingy gun, talkin' iron, thumb buster, 
tied holster, Walker pistol, Winchester, 
Winchester quarantine, Worchestershire. 

arriero (ar-re-ay'ro) 

Muleteer, packer, a man who packs 
loads on pack mules. 


See blow in, blow in with the tumble- 

arroyo (ar-ro'yo) 

This is a Spanish word meaning rivu- 
let. It is used almost exclusively in the 
Southwest, where a small stream is ca- 
pable of cutting a deep channel for itself 
in the soft earth, and the name has come 
to mean a narrow gorge having precipi- 
tous walls of dirt. 


Pistols, personal weapons. I heard one 
cowhand say of a heavily armed man, 
"He's packin' so much artillery it makes 
his hoss swaybacked." 

Association saddle 

The saddle adopted by rodeo associ- 
ations in 1920. Its use is now compulsory 
at all large contests. Built on a modified 
Ellenburg tree, medium in height, with 
a fourteen-inch swell and a five-inch 
cantle, it has nothing about it which per- 
mits the rider to anchor himself. As the 
cowboy says, "It gives the hoss all the 
best of it." The original Association 
saddle was made with small, round skirts, 
three-quarter rigged, with a flank rig 
set farther back than on a regular rigged 
saddle. It was full basket stamped and 
had stirrup leathers made to buckle for 
quick and easy adjustment. 


Boss, a big talker (as noun) ; to talk 
(as verb). 


augurin' match 

A talking contest such as is held no- 
where else except in the West. In the lan- 
guage of the cowman, an augurin' match 
is "jes' a case of two loose-tongued hu- 
mans a-settin' cross-legged, knee to knee 
and face to face, talkin' as fast as they 
can to see which one can keep it up the 
longest without runnin' out of words and 
wind. There's jes' a constant flow of 
words that don't make no sense a-tall, 

both of 'em talkin' at the same time and 
each one's got so much to say that it 
gets in his way. At the start they talk 
fast and furious, but after an hour or 
so they slow down to a trot to be savin' 
of both words and wind. By the time it's 
over, neither one of 'em's got 'nough 
vocal power left to bend a smoke ring." 

axle grease 

Slang name for butter. 


"Brains in the head saves blisters on the feet" 


The cowboy's contemptuous name for 
sheep. If you want to start a fight, just 
blat this at a cowboy. 


A term used in fighting prairie fires, 
which means to start a new fire in front 
of the one to be fought. This purposely 
set fire is controlled on the advancing 
side and driven toward the oncoming 
blaze until the two meet and burn them- 
selves out. 

back jockey 

The top skirt of a saddle, being the 
uppermost broad leathers joining behind 
the cantle. 

back trail 

A trail just traversed (as noun); to 
go back over such a trail (as verb). 


A section of country with little vege- 
tation, composed principally of buttes, 
peaks, and other badly eroded soil; also 
the cowboy's name for a red-light dis- 


An inhabitant of the Badlands. 

bad medicine 

Bad news, a man considered danger- 
ous. Some of these men, said one cowboy, 

"Were so tough they'd growed horns 
and was haired over." Tom Kirk spoke 
of one's being "a wolf, and he ain't 
togged out in no sheep's wool either." 


See bad medicine, cat-eyed, curly wolf, 
Daniel Boones, gun fanner, gunman, 
gunny, gun tipper, hired killer, killer, 
leather slapper, short-trigger man, want- 

bag pannier 

A flat, oblong bag of canvas or leath- 
er with a long flap, lashed to the pack- 
saddle to carry camp equipment. 


The Southwest's name for a dance, 
especially one conducted under Mexican 
or mixed auspices. 


Food, a meal. 


To ride in such a way as to overheat 
a horse. 


A stiff -bosomed shirt, sometimes called 
boiled; also applied to a horse when the 
white on its head includes one or both 
eyes. Sometimes white-faced cattle are 
called baldfaced. 

Western Words 


A group of horses. This word is used 
in referring to horses only, as either cat- 
tle, stock, or livestock are spoken of as 
a herd, or bunch of cattle, or as a bunch 
of livestock. 

bandido (ban-dee'do) 

A bandit, an outlaw. Used near the 
Mexican border to refer to a Mexican 
outlaw. is the more common word 
referring to the American outlaw. 

band wagon 

A range-peddler's wagon, usually 
loaded with clothing, cinches, stirrup 
leathers, and other cowboy supplies. 


A mustang or wild horse. Later bang- 
tail was used in the East in speaking of 
race horses, as, "playing the bangtails." 

bar bit 

A straight or slightly curved round 
bar for a mouthpiece, having a ring at 
each end for attaching the rein and head- 

barbed brand 

One made with a short projection from 
some part of it. 

barboquejo (bar-bo-kay'ho) 

A Spanish word meaning chin strap. 
A halter for the hind part of the under 
jaw of a horse; also a chin strap for the 
cowboy's hat (see bonnet strings). Rare- 
ly used except near the Mexican border. 


A bartender. Many were former cow- 
boys too stove-up for riding. A bar-dog's 
favorite occupation, as one cowhand 
said, was "yawnin' on the glasses to give 
'em a polish." When he reached for your 
bottle and hammered the cork home with 
the heel of his hand, that action told you 
more plainly than words that your credit 
had run out. 


Said of an unshod horse. 

barkin' at a knot 

Trying to accomplish the impossible. 
One cowman might express the same 
thought with, "like tryin' to scratch yore 

ear with yore elbow," or another with, 
"like huntin' for a whisper in a big 

bar shoe 

A horseshoe with a metal piece welded 
across the heel. 


Slang for a drink of whiskey. 

basket hitch 

A packer's knot made with sling ropes, 
by passing them across the bottom of 
the pannier and around the rear cross of 
the packsaddle, then bringing the loose 
end up under the pannier and tying it 

basto (bahs'to) 

A Spanish word meaning a fad. The 
skirt of a saddle. The word is a technical 
term restricted to the saddle industry and 
to horsemen. 


An unmarried man, short for bachelor 
(as noun) ; to live alone, to cook one's 
own food (as verb). 


Chaps made of heavy bull-hide with 
wide, flapping wings. They have become 
the most popular chaps on the range be- 
cause they snap on. Every cowboy lives 
with a pair of spurs on his heels, and 
when wearing the bat-wings, he does 
not have to pull his spurs off to shed his 
chaps as he does with the "shotgun" 
style. These chaps are commonly deco- 
rated with nickel or silver conchas down 
each leg. 


A horse of light reddish color, always 
having a black mane and tail. 

bayo coyote (bah'yo ko-yo'tah) 

The Southwest's name for a dun horse 
with a black stripe down its back. 


A nickname for a Mexican. 


A slang name for the cook. 


The cowboy's name for doughnuts. 




The name for a certain style of saddle, 
a severe bit. 

beast with a bellyful of 

Said of a good bucking horse. Some- 
times a poor rider would let another top 
off his horse "to see that there ain't no 
bedsprings loose." 


See bed down, bedroll, bed-wagon, 
bunk, cama, crumb incubator, cut the 
bed, dream sack, flea-bag, flea-trap, 
goose hair, hen-skins, hippin's, hot-roll, 
lay, Mormon blanket, mule's breakfast, 
parkers, prairie feathers, rildy, shake- 
down, skunk boat, split the blankets, 
spool your bed, star-pitch, suggans, tarp, 
Tucson bed, velvet couch. 


In the cowman's language, this means 
that a roped animal has been thrown full 
length with such force as to cause it to 
lie still. 

bedding down 

The forming of a herd for their night's 
rest — a scientific job requiring that the 
herd be not crowded too closely, nor yet 
allowed to scatter over too much terri- 
tory. With a trail herd, as the sun began 
to sink in the west, the men in charge 
would carefully and gradually work the 
cattle into a more compact space and urge 
them toward some open, level ground se- 
lected for the bed-ground. If the herd 
had been well grazed and watered dur- 
ing the day, they would stop, and grad- 
ually a few would lie down to their con- 
tented cud chewing. (Will C. Barnes, 
"Texas Cowboy — Pioneer and Senator," 
Cattleman, XV, No. 9 [February, 1929], 
27—30.) With patience the cowboys 
would stay with them until relieved by 
the men of the first guard. 

beddin' out 

A term often used in connection with 
the roundup season, as at this time the 
cowboy does all his sleeping in the open. 


The place where cattle are held at 
night. It is the duty of the day herders 

to have the cattle on the bed-ground and 
bedded down before dusk. The bed- 
ground is chosen in a wide open space 
when possible, away from ravines or 
timber, in order to avoid things which 
might frighten the cattle. 

bed him down 

To kill one; also used in speaking of 
putting a drunk to bed. 


The cowboy's bedroll consists of a 
tarpaulin seven by eighteen feet, made of 
No. 8 white ducking, weighing eighteen 
ounces to the square yard and thoroughly 
waterproofed. This is equipped with 
rings and snaps so that the sleeper may 
pull the flap over him and fasten it. In 
the bed proper will be, perhaps, two 
heavy quilts, or soogans, a couple of 
blankets, and a war-bag which the cow- 
boy uses for a headrest. In such a bed 
placed on well-drained ground, he can 
sleep as dry as inside a house, even in a 
heavy rain. (John M. Hendrix, "T/te 
Bed-roll," Cattleman, XX, No. 4 [Sep- 
tember, 1934], 10.) 

Next to his horse and saddle, his bed- 
roll is the cowboy's most valued posses- 
sion. It serves as his safe-deposit box, and 
it is not what you would consider healthy 
for a man to be caught prowling through 
another's bedroll. 

Such a bed is warm in winter. The 
"tarp" keeps out snow, sleet, and wind; 
and even when the bedroll is covered 
with snow and ice, the extra weight helps 
keep the sleeper warm. In the morning 
when he awakens, he dresses a la Pull- 
man style without quitting the blankets. 

For a cowhand to leave his bed un- 
rolled and not packed for loading into 
the wagon when camp is to be moved is 
a very serious breach of range etiquette. 
The cook will be sure to call him names 
that would "peel the hide off a Gila 
monster." If the careless puncher com- 
mits the offense more than once, the cook 
is certain to drive off and leave his bed 

bed-slat ribs 

Said of an animal in poor condition. 
A cowhand in New Mexico told me of a 
drought when "them bed-slats got so pore 
their shadows developed holes in 'em." 

Western Words 


A wagon used to carry bedding, brand- 
ing irons, war-bags, hobbles, and corral 
ropes. It generally contained all that the 
cowboy truly valued, and was also used 
as a hospital to carry the injured or sick 
until they could be taken to town or to 
headquarters. Only the larger outfits car- 
ried a bed-wagon, the smaller ones piling 
their beds into the chuck wagon. 


Any cow or steer over four years of 
age (as noun) ; to kill an animal for 
food, to bellyache (as verb). 


See beef, beef cut, beefing, beef round- 
up, big antelope, jerky, slow elk, wo- 

beef -book 

A tally book in which the records of 
the ranch are kept. See also tally sheet. 

beef cut 

Roundup parlance for cattle cut out of 
a herd for shipment to market. 


Slaughtering, bellyaching. 

beef issue 

The issue of beef for food to reserva- 
tion Indians at a government agency. 

beef roundup 

Synonymous with jail rounduf, for 
the purpose of gathering all cattle for 
shipment to market. 


When used as a verb, it means to ride 
so that a horse's back becomes galled and 


The old-timer's name for shallow 
water in which cattle had stood — usually 
green, stagnant, and full of urine. 


See wagon manners. 

bell mare 

A mare with bells around her neck, 
which is used in some sections of the 
cattle country to keep the saddle horses 

together. Cowmen in these sections con- 
tend that the bells will warn them if the 
horses become frightened in the night 
and leave in a hurry. But most cowmen 
object to a bell in the remuda because it 
sounds too many false alarms and awak- 
ens a sleeping outfit needlessly. 


The Texan's name for the long stick, 
or pole, which serves as a latch to wire 
gates. If you have ever tried to open one 
of these gates and have had this pole slip 
from your hand, you will know that it 
is well named. 


A slang name for the cook. Many 
cooks were merely cooks and not cow- 
men. One cowhand informed me that the 
cook with his outfit "didn't savvy cow 
unless it was dished up in a stew." 


A slang name for a gun carried in 
the waistband of the pants instead of in 
a holster. The gun is naked and drawn 
with a single motion similar to the regu- 
lation cross draw. 

belly rope 

When the roper's loop slips over the 
shoulders of a roped animal and tightens 
around its belly, as the result of using 
too large a loop. This act is always funny 
to everyone except the man doing the 

belly through the brush 

Said of one hiding and dodging the 

belly up 

Dead, to drink at a bar. Old Cap Mul- 
hall had nothing but contempt for the 
younger punchers when they "raised 
hell" in town after a few drinks. I have 
often heard him utter the philosophy, "It 
don't take backbone to belly up to a bar." 


A slang name for weak coffee. 


A plain rising above a lowland. 

bench brand 

A brand resting upon a horizontal 



bracket with its feet downward like a 


To turn a stampede, or general move- 
ment of animals. Used in some sections 
of the North. 

bendin' an elbow 

The act of drinking whiskey. One old 
rancher, who had no patience with a 
drinking man, used to hold to the phi- 
losophy that "a corkscrew never pulled 
no one out of a hole." 


See nickel-plated, tops. 

between a rock and a hard place 

Bankrupt, in a tight. 

between hay and grass 

In different seasons, as in early spring, 
when hay is gone and grass has not come 
up ; also meaning difficult times. 


The cowboy's name for his book of 
cigarette papers. 

Bible "Two" 

The Texas Rangers' annually pub- 
lished fugitive list, read by them more 
than the real Bible. 


The act, when riding a bucking horse, 
of scratching with first one foot and then 
the other in the manner of riding a bi- 

biddy bridle 

An old-fashioned bridle with blinders. 

big antelope 

An animal, belonging to someone else, 
killed for food. It was the custom in the 
old days for a ranchman never to kill 
his own cattle for food, and many an 
old-timer was accused of never knowing 
how his own beef tasted. One ranch 
woman was heard to say, "I would just 
as soon eat one of my own children as 
one of my yearlings." 

big augur 

The big boss. 

big casino 

Whatever idea or physical asset that 
is expected to bring success (Philip A. 
Rollins, The Cowboy [New York, 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 80). 

big fifty 

A nickname for the .50 caliber Sharps 

big house 

The home of the ranch owner. 

big jump 

The cowman's reference to death. 
When one died, he was said to have taken 
the big jumf, and a good many cowmen 
were "weighted down with their boots." 

big sugar 

Nickname for the owner of a ranch. 

big swimmin' 

Said of a high river. 


A wide leather strap looped through 
the tree on the off side of the saddle. 
Holes are punched in it to accommodate 
the tongue of the cinch buckle. 


A wild west show such as Buffalo 
Bill's and Pawnee Bill's. 

Bill-show cowboy 

A show-off cowboy of the Buffalo Bill 
show type. 


See chaparral bird, hooter, paisano, 
road runner. 


A t slang name for the horn of the 


A slang name for the cook. 


Another slang name for the cook, a 
waitress in a restaurant. 


A metal bar which fits into the horse's 
mouth. There are many kinds of bits, 
some of them extremely cruel when mis- 
used. Yet it is rare that a cowboy uses a 


Western Words 

bit for cruelty. His idea of a bit is that 
it is merely to hang in the horse's mouth. 
When turning to the right, for example, 
he does not pull the right rein ; he merely 
moves his bridle hand a couple of inches 
to the right, bringing the left rein against 
the horse's neck. It is merely a signal. 
The well-trained horse turns himself; he 
does not have to be pulled around. Many 
cowboys do not use bits, but ride with a 
hackamore instead. 


See bar bit, bit, bit ring, chain bit, 
cricket, curb bit, grazin' bit, half-breed 
bit, Kelly's, port, ring bit, snaffle bit, 
spade bit, stomach pump, straight bit, 
tool chest, war bridle. 


A tin cup filled with bacon grease, 
and, with a twisted rag wick, used in 
place of a lamp or candle when either is 
not available; also a cowhide stretched 
under a wagon from axle to axle for 
carrying wood. See cuna. 

bite 'em lip 

When a rodeo bulldogger leans over 
and fastens his teeth in the upper lip of 
the bulldogged steer. This stunt was orig- 
inated by Tom Pickett, a famous Negro 

bittin' ring 

Fastening the rein of the bit to the 
belly-strap for the purpose of making 
the horse bridle wise before the rider 
mounts. When the rein is fastened, the 
horse will gallop around in a circle with 
little danger of crashing through a fence. 

bit ring 

The metal ring to which the reins are 

bit the dust 

Thrown from a horse. When Hawk 
Nance once got thrown, he got up to 
gingerly test his bones, then remarked 
with a grin, "I reckon I didn't break 
nothin', but all the hinges and bolts are 
shore loosened." It also means to be 
killed. This expression originated in the 
Indian days, and during a battle when 
an Indian was shot from his horse, it 
was said that "another redskin bit the 


To clip on a calf's nose a thin board, 
six by eight inches in size, at the center 
of one of the long edges (as verb). He 
can graze but is assuredly weaned (Philip 
A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New York, 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 194.). 
This device used for weaning (as noun). 
Also, as a noun, it had another meaning 
now obsolete. The early-day rep wore 
around his neck and hanging down a 
piece of stiff leather which was known as 
a blab. It bore the brand of the outfit he 
represented for all to see, and served as 
his identification card. (Will James, 
Home Ranch [New York, Charles Scrib- 
ner's Sons, 1935], 118.) The word is 
now commonly used in the meaning of 
to tell or loose talk. 

blab board 

The full name for the weaning device. 

blackballed outfit 

A ranch, or outfit, barred from send- 
ing a rep to the general roundup, the 
term being especially applied to small 
ranchers suspected of being rustlers or 
friendly to them. 

black book 

The Texas Rangers' list of "wanted" 

black chaparral 

A very thorny kind of brush peculiar 
to the Southwest. 

black-eyed susan 

A slang name for a six-gun. 

blackjack steer 

A scrawny steer from the timbered 


Pimping or procuring for a woman 
of easy virtue. A polite way of giving 
information of such a man, as "Bill is 
blacksmithin' for Bertha." 


A long whip. 

black spot 

What the cowboy calls a piece of shade. 
It is also used in another sense, as when 
one cowman spoke of another's reputa- 



tion by saying, "His past is full o' black 
spots." In this characteristic cowboy man- 
ner, he let me know of the other's shady 


A slang name for molasses, thick and 

blattin' cart 

The calf wagon. See calf ■wagon. 


To mark a trail (as verb) ; a white 
color on a horse's nose which goes up- 
ward to join the strip (see star strip), 
causing the whole to become a blaze (as 

blind as a snubbin' post 

Undiscerning. One cowhand described 
such a person with, "He couldn't see 
through a bob-wire fence." 

blind bucker 

A horse that loses his head when rid- 
den and bucks into or through anything. 


A sack or cloth used in covering a 
horse's eyes when saddling or shoeing. 


Covering a horse's eyes with a sack or 
cloth to keep him quiet enough for sad- 

blind trail 

A trail with indistinct markings or 

blind trap 

A hidden corral for trapping cattle 
or wild horses. 


A high, cold, searching wind, accom- 
panied by blinding sleet and smothering 
snow. When riding through a blizzard, 
you would think, as one cowboy of my 
acquaintance did, that you were "ridin' 
on the knob o' the North Pole." 

blizzard choked 

Said of cattle caught in a corner or 
draw or against a drift fence during a 

Blocker loop 

An extra-large loop, taking its name 

from John Blocker, a well-known roper 
of Texas, who originated and used this 
loop. It is turned over when thrown and 
goes over the steer's shoulders and picks 
up both front feet. It is started like the 
straight overhead loop, being taken 
around the head to the left. The cast 
is made when the loop is behind the 
right shoulder, the right arm being 
whipped straight forward across the 
circle it has been describing. At the same 
time the hand and wrist give the loop 
a twist toward the left. The loop goes 
out in front of the roper, appears to stop, 
stand up, then roll to the left, showing 
the honda to be on the side of the loop 
opposite its position when the throw was 
started (W. M. French, "Ropes and 
Ropers," Cattleman, XXVI, No. 12 
[May, 1940], 17-30). 

blood bay 

A horse of darker red color than the 


To deface a brand. 

blow a stirrup 

Losing a stirrup, an act which dis- 
qualifies the rider in rodeo contests. 

blow in 

To spend money, to arrive. 

blow in with the tumbleweeds 

To come unexpectedly. 

blow out 

A celebration. 

blow out his lamp 

A slang expression for kill. 


A slang name for a rifle. 

blow the plug 

Said of a bucking horse that exhibits 
all the tricks of the rodeo arena. 

blow up 

To start bucking. 


The southern cowman's name for any 

blue lightnin' 

A slang name for a six-gun. 

l 3 

Western Words 

blue meat 

The flesh of an unweaned calf. 

blue whistler 

A bullet, so called because of the blue 
frame of the pistol 5 also a norther. 


See cold blazer, fourflusher, put the 
saddle on him. 

boar's nest 

A line camp, taking this name because 
its occupant is a man more interested in 
his duties as a cowhand than in the art 
of housekeeping. These camps usually 
consist of shacks with one or two rooms 
and a small corral and storage for horse 
feed. They are furnished with a mini- 
mum amount of equipment so that visit- 
ing prowlers will not profit. Single men 
who do not mind loneliness and who 
can eat their own cooking are usually 
placed in these camps. Because there is 
too much waste in killing a beef for one 
man, the principal diet of this cowboy 
consists of beans, lick, coffee, flour, lard, 
a few cans of food, and a slab of white, 
salt-covered "sow belly." (John M. 
Hendrix, "Batchin' Camp," Cattleman, 
XVI, No. 8 [July, 1934], 5.) 

bob-tail guard 

The first guard at night herding. 

body spin 

A term in trick roping. The act is ac- 
complished by bringing a wide, spinning 
loop up and over the head and thence 
down around the body during the spin- 
ning. It can be performed from the 
ground or from horseback. 

bog camp 

A camp established close to a boggy 
area so that men may be handy to pull 
out cattle which become mired. 

bogged his head 

Said of a horse which puts his head 
between his forelegs as a preparation for 

bogged to the saddle skirts 

To be deeply implicated in some situ- 

boggin' 'em in 

A term used in rodeo riding when the 

rider fails to scratch his horse. See bog- 
gin' time in. 

boggin' time in 

When a rodeo contestant fails to 
scratch his mount. 

boggy crossin' 

A crossing of a stream which is full 
of quicksand or boggy earth ; also some- 
thing which one does not fully under- 


The cowboy's name for a pie with one 

bog hole 

Alkali hole, mud hole, or quicksand 
where cattle are likely to enter for a little 
moisture and get bogged too deeply to 
extricate themselves. 

bog rider 

A cowboy whose immediate duty it is 
to rope the mired cattle and pull them 
to dry ground. He rides a stout horse 
and frequently carries a short-handled 
shovel, which he uses to get the bogged 
cow's legs clear. Placing his rope about 
the animal's horns, he wraps the other 
end around the horn of his saddle. After 
cinching up his saddle as tightly as the 
latigo straps can be drawn, he mounts 
and starts his horse slowly. Then inch 
by inch the cow is pulled to dry ground. 
(Will C. Barnes, "The Bog Rider," 
Cattleman, XVI, No. 8 [January, 1930], 

As soon as this is done, the rider dis- 
mounts and "tails" up the brute. The cow 
usually shows her gratitude by immedi- 
ately charging her rescuer. The ingrati- 
tude of a bogged cow is notorious. "As 
ungrateful as a cow fresh pulled from a 
bog-hole" is a common comparison. Bog 
riders usually ride in pairs, as the job is 
strenuous for one man. 

boil over 

To start bucking. 


A rich body of ore, hence, prosperity. 
The word is also used in referring to any 
unusually promising or profitable enter- 




A slang name for a cemetery. 

bone picker 

A man who, in the old days, gathered 
buffalo bones after the hunters had ex- 
terminated the buffalo ; also a slang name 
for a buzzard. 

bone seasoned 



Another name for a cemetery; also a 
reference to an emaciated horse. 

bonnet strings 

Buckskin thongs hanging from each 
side of the brim of a hat at its inner 
edges, to hold the hat on. The ends are 
run through a bead or ring, and by pull- 
ing these up under his chin, the cowboy 
has a hat that will stay on during a fast 
ride or in windy weather. He does not 
care to have to ride back several miles 
to hunt for a hat that has blown off, for 
he is usually too busy to stop. 


To scare, to confuse. 

book count 

Selling cattle by the books, commonly 
resorted to in the early days, sometimes 
much to the profit of the seller. 


See beef book, Bible, Bible "two," 
black book, book count, books don't 
freeze, brand book, dream book, prayer 
book, shepherd's bible, tally sheet, wish 

books won't freeze 

A common byword in the northwest 
cattle country during the boom days 
when eastern and foreign capital were so 
eager to buy cattle interests. The origin 
of this saying is credited to a saloon keep- 
er by the name of Luke Murrin. His 
saloon was a meeting place for influen- 
tial Wyoming cattlemen, and one year 
during a severe blizzard, when his herd- 
owner customers were wearing long 
faces, he said, "Cheer up boys, whatever 
happens, the books won't freeze." In this 
carefree sentence he summed up the es- 
sence of the prevailing custom of buying 

by book count, and created a saying 
which has survived through the years. 


The cowman's footwear ; also a horse- 
shoe with both heel and toe calked. The 
cowboy's boots are generally the most 
expensive part of his rigging, and he 
wants them high-heeled, thin-soled, and 
made of good leather. The tops are made 
of light-weight, high-grade leather, and 
all the stitching on them is not merely 
for decoration. It serves the purpose of 
stiffening them and keeping them from 
wrinkling too much at the ankles where 
they touch the stirrups. (John M. Hen- 
drix, "Boots," Cattleman, XXXIII, No. 
ii [April, 1937], 5.) 

The boots are handmade and made to 
order. The cowman has no use for hand- 
me-down, shop-made foot-gear, and no 
respect for a cowhand who will wear it, 
holding the opinion that ordinary shoes 
are made for furrow-flattened feet and 
not intended for stirrup work. 

The high heels keep his foot from slip- 
ping through the stirrup and hanging; 
they let him dig in when he is roping 
on foot, and they give him sure footing 
in all other work on the ground. Then, 
too, the high heel is a tradition, a mark 
of distinction, the sign that the one wear- 
ing it is a riding man, and a riding man 
has always held himself above the man 
on foot. 

A cowhand wants the toes of his boots 
more or less pointed to make it easier 
to pick up a stirrup on a wheeling horse. 
He wants a thin sole so that he has the 
feel of the stirrup. He wants the vamp 
soft and light and the tops wide and loose 
to allow the air to circulate and prevent 

When a man is seen wearing old boots 
"so frazzled he can't strike a match on 
'em without burning his feet," he is con- 
sidered worthless and without pride. 

bootblack cowpuncher 

A man who came from the East to go 
into the cattle business for the money 
there was in it, called this by the old- 
time cowman. 


A name given the frontier cemetery, 
because most of its early occupants died 


Western Words 

with their boots on. The word has had 
an appeal as part of the romantic side 
of the West and has become familiar as 
a picture of the violent end of a reckless 
life. But to the Westerner boot-hill was 
just a graveyard where there "wasn't 
nobody there to let 'em down easy with 
their hats off." Like the old saying, 
"There ain't many tears shed at a boot- 
hill buryin'," and it is "full o' fellers 
that pulled their triggers before aimin'." 


See boot, California moccasins, cus- 
tom-mades, Justin's, mule-ears, peewees, 

booze blind 

Very drunk. A man with a full-grown 
case of booze blindness perhaps "never 
knowed he had a twin brother till he 
looked in the mirror behind the bar." 
Very often he got to the state where he 
"sees things that ain't there." Speed Car- 
low declared that no man "could gargle 
that brand o' hooch" he'd been drinking 
"without annexin' a few queer animals." 

border draw 

A cross draw made with the gun car- 
ried at or near the hip, but hanging butt 
forward. A quick stab of the hand across 
the body reaches the gun, and the con- 
tinuation of the movement lifts it clear 
of the holster. It is called this because of 
its popularity with men in the vicinity 
of the Mexican border. (Eugene Cun- 
ningham, T riggernometry [New York, 
Press of Pioneers, 1934], 423.) 

border shift 

The throwing of the gun from one 
hand to the other and catching, cocking, 
and if need be, firing it without seeming 
to pause. (Eugene Cunningham, Trig- 
gernometry [New York, Press of Pio- 
neers, 1934], 423). A very difficult 
stunt requiring much practice. 


Euphemism for stolen. 


From the Spanish bozal (bo-thahV ), 
meaning a muzzle, a temporary head- 
stall. A leather, rawhide, or metal ring 
around the horse's head immediately 
above the mouth, used in place of a bit. 

bosal brand 

A stripe burned around the animal's 

bosque (bos'kay) 

In Spanish the word means literally 
a forest, but English-speaking men use 
it more commonly in referring to a clump 
or grove of trees. 


See big augur, big sugar, buggy boss, 
caporal, cock-a-doodle-doo, corral boss, 
foreman, head taster, old man, powders, 
presidente, range boss, read the Scrip- 
tures, right-hand man, rod, roddin' the 
spread, roundup captain, runnin' the 
outfit, segundo, straw boss, top screw, 
trail boss, wagon boss, white-collar 


Said of a bungled worked-over brand. 
A botched job is an acute mortification 
to most rustlers. 

both ends against the middle 

A method of trimming cards for deal- 
ing a brace game of faro. A dealer who 
uses such a pack is said to be "playing 
both ends against the middle," and the 
saying became common in the West. 


Endurance, as, "This horse has plenty 
of bottom" ; also a low ground contigu- 
ous to a stream. One of the sayings of 
the cow country is, "Real bottom in a 
good hoss counts for more than his rig- 

boughten bag 

Cowboy's name for the traveling bag 
used by an Easterner. 


To turn animals. Not commonly used. 

bow up 

Said when cattle hump their backs in 
a storm; also used in the sense of show- 
ing fight, as one cowboy was heard to 
say, "He arches his back like a mule in 
a hail storm." 

box brand 

A brand whose design bears framing 



box canyon 

A gorge with but a single opening, the 
inner terminal being against a wall of 
rock within the mountain mass; also 
called a blind canyon. 

box pannier 

A flat, narrow wooden box, usually 
covered with green rawhide with the 
hair on and lashed to the packsaddle to 
carry camp equipment. 


See button, door knob, fryin' size, hen 
wrangler, pistol, put a kid on a horse, 
whistle, yearling. 

brace game 

A gambling game which the dealer 
has fixed so that he is sure to win. Many 
trusting and ignorant cowboys were vic- 
tims of the crooked gambler. 

bradded brand 

Letter or figure having enlarged ter- 


See flannel mouth, got callouses from 
pattin' his own back. 

brain tablet 

A slang name for a cigarette. 


The mark of identity burned upon the 
hide of an animal (as noun) ; the act of 
burning this emblem (as verb). Also 
slangily used to mean the deed to a sad- 
dle horse. The origin of the brand dates 
back to antiquity, and there has never 
been anything to take its place as a per- 
manent mark of ownership. As the cow- 
man says, "A brand is somethin' that 
won't come off in the wash." 

brand artist 

A rustler, one expert at changing 

brand blotter 

A cattle thief who mutilates brands in 
order to destroy the legitimate owner's 
claim; also called brand blotcher and 
brand burner. 

brand book 

An official record of brands of a cattle 


The man whose immediate duty it is 
to place a brand upon an animal during 
branding. When the calf is dragged to 
him, he jerks the branding iron from the 
fire, hits the rod on his forearm to jar 
off the coals and slaps it on the critter's 
hide. Perhaps he is working away from 
the fire and has an assistant. Then when 
his iron becomes too cold to scar the 
hide, he yells, "Hot iron!" and another, 
glowing a cherry red, is brought from 
the fire on a trot. 


See blot, botch, brander, branding 
chute, brand inspector, burn cattle, burn 
'em and boot 'em, burnin' rawhide, burn- 
in' and trimmin' up calves, butcher, calf 
on the ground, cook stove, corral brand- 
ing, dotting irons, fireman, fire out, flank, 
flanker, hair brand, hair over, herrar, 
hot iron, hot stuff, iron, iron-man, iron- 
tender, Look out, cowboy!, mavericking, 
more straw, open-range branding, op'ra, 
picking a sleeper, range branded, rolling 
a calf, run a brand, running iron, scorch- 
er, slappin' a brand on, slicks, snappin' 
turtle, tally branding, working brands, 
work over. 

branding chute 

A narrow, boarded passage into which 
cattle are driven and held so that they 
may be branded without having to be 

brand inspector 

A man hired by cattle associations to 
inspect brands at shipping points and 
cattle markets. 


See barbed brand, bench brand, bosal 
brand, box brand, bradded brand, brand, 
brand you could read in the moonlight, 
burnt till he looks like a brand book, 
calling the brands, cold brand, connected 
brand, counterbrand, county brand, de- 
coy brand, drag brand, fluidy mustard, 
flying brand, fool brand, forked brand, 
greaser madhouse, hair brand, lazy 
brand, map of Mexico, maverick brand, 
open brand, picked brand, rafter brand, 
road brand, running brand, set brand, 
skillet of snakes, sleeper brands, slow 
brand, stamp brand, swinging brand, 


Western Words 

tumbling brand, vent brand, walking 
brand, whangdoodle. 

brand you could read in the 

Said of a large brand, or one covering 
a large area of hide. 


Brush country. The Spanish word is 
brazada (brah-thah* 'ciah) from brazo, 
meaning arm or branch. This term is 
particularly applied in parts of Texas 
to the region densely covered with thick- 
ets and underbrush (J. Frank Dobie, 
Vaquero of the Brush Country [Dallas, 
Southwest Press, 1929], 229). 


An occasional name for whiskey. It 
has been said that, "When a man has to 
go into a barroom to build his courage 
up, he mighty often has to prove it." 


A cow that jumps over or breaks 
through fences. 


Conquering, taming, and training a 
horse by force and fight. 


See blinding, breaking, breaking age, 
breaking patter, breaking pen, broken, 
bronc stall, bust, choke down, curry the 
kinks out, ear down, gentling, hazer, In- 
dian broke, ironing him out, kick the 
frost out, lady broke, let the hammer 
down, makin' shavetails, rough break, 
sacking, sacking out, smoothing out the 
humps, snappin' broncs, soak, three sad- 
dles, top off, uncorkin' a bronc, unroost- 
er, whip breaking, wiping him out, work 

breaking age 

The age at which horses are usually 
broken, between three and one-half and 
four years old. 

breaking brush 

Said of one riding in the brush coun- 

breaking patter 

The soothing, yet derisive talk that 
horse tamers use to distract the minds of 

their mounts while saddling and break- 
ing them. 

breaking pen 

A small corral used for breaking 

breaking the medicine 

Overcoming an enemy's efforts to 
harm you, breaking a jinx. 

break in two 

Said when a horse starts bucking. 

break range 

Said when horses run off their home 


To mate animals for the purpose of 
reproduction (as verb) ; short for the 
West's half-breed, or person of mixed 
blood (as noun). 


The headgear of the horse, composed 
of a crown-piece, brow-band, throat- 
latch, and, on each side, a cheek-piece. 
Most cowboys prefer a plain headstall. 
There are no buckles nor conchas down 
the cheeks to interfere with roping. When 
the cowboy ropes anything and holds it, 
he keeps his horse facing it so that the 
rope naturally runs out beside the head. 

bridle chain 

A short piece of chain fastened to the 
bit ring on one end, and to the reins on 
the other end. Some riders like chains be- 
cause the reins do not get wet when the 
horse drinks, and they also keep a tied 
horse from chewing the reins. 

bridle head 

The headgear of the bridle. 

bridle ring 

A metal ring at each end of the bit, 
to which the reins are fastened. 


See biddy bridle, bittin' ring, bosal, 
bridle, bridle chain, bridle head, bridle 
ring, brow band, bucking rein, Cali- 
fornia reins, cheek-piece, cricket, crown 
piece, ear-head, fiador, freno, hacka- 
more, headstall, horse jewelry, one-eared 
bridle, open reins, romal, throat-latch, 
tied reins, war bridle. 



bridle wise 

Said of a horse so trained that he can 
be controlled and guided in the direction 
desired solely by laying the bridle reins 
on the side of his neck. 


To go; also used in describing the 
color of a cow, variegated with spots of 
different colors. 

bring-'em-close glasses 

Field glasses. 

bringin' up the drags 

In the rear. Sometimes used in speak- 
ing of a slow or lazy person. 


An animal covered with splotches of 
various colors. 


See between a rock and a hard place, 
close to the blanket, didn't have a tail 
feather left, down to the blanket, sold 
his saddle. 


Said of a horse when he has had the 
rough edges taken off, but to the tender- 
foot he would still seem fairly wild. 

broken bit 

A bit composed of two pieces of metal 
joined by a swivel. 


A wild or semiwild horse, often con- 
tracted into bronc. From the Spanish 
bronco, meaning rough, rude. A horse 
usually retains this appellation until he 
has been sufficiently gentled to be con- 
sidered reliable. 

bronc belt 

A broad leather belt sometimes worn 
by bronc fighters to support their back 
and stomach muscles. 

bronc breaker 

A man who breaks wild horses. 

bronc buster 

A man who follows the hazardous 
trade of horse-breaking as a steady busi- 
ness. He has to be good, even better than 
the man who just breaks horses, and a 
good one is hard to find. The best cow- 

hands can ride the "snuffy" ones, but 
won't. This is the buster's job, and he re- 
ceives a few extra dollars per month. 
No man hired to break horses ever abuses 
them. He takes great pride in his work, 
and it is an honor to be pointed out as 
the rider of the rough string for a big 
outfit. He does his best to make good 
cow horses out of his charges and not 
spoil them. No outfit wants spoiled horses, 
and a man who spoiled them would last 
only long enough to ride one horse. 

His job requires strength and skill, 
and he has to possess the "sixth sense" of 
knowing which way the horse will jump 
next. Once in the saddle, he does his best 
to keep the bronc's head up. If he is 
thrown, he is certain to crawl back on 
the animal immediately, provided he has 
not been crippled. To let the horse think 
he has won the fight gives him bad ideas. 
Falls have no terrors for the seasoned 
rider, but the thought of a foot's be- 
coming hung in the stirrup, or of find- 
ing himself under a man-killer's hoofs 
worries him plenty. How to fall is one 
of the first things he learns. He learns 
how to kick free of the stirrups, to go 
limp and hit the ground rolling. He al- 
ways knows he is going a jump or two 
before he actually goes. 

His working years are short, and he 
is too old for the game at thirty. Then 
he has to be content to ride horses other 
men have gentled, the jar and lunge of 
the rougher ones having torn him up in- 

bronc fighter 

Another name for a buster, but one 
which more properly fits the man who 
has never learned to control his own 
temper, and he, therefore, usually spoils 
the horse rather than conquers it. 

bronc peeler 

Another name for a rider of the rough 

bronc saddle 

A specially built saddle used in break- 
ing horses, made with wide, undercut 
fork, with built-in swells, and a deep- 
dished cantle. 

bronc scratcher 

A slang name for the breaker of wild 


Western Words 

bronc snapper 

Synonymous with bronc scratcher. 

bronc squeezer 

Another term for bronc buster. 

bronc stall 

A narrow enclosure where a wild 
horse can be tied inside with just enough 
room for him to stand. Once a horse is 
in a place of this kind he can do nothing 
but snort, and a man can place his hand 
upon him without fear of getting bitten 
or kicked. It is a gentling place for bad 
horses used at many ranches, especially 
where a number of horses are broken for 
work in harness. The cowboy seldom uses 
such a contrivance, but does his gentling 
in the middle of a bare corral, or wher- 
ever he happens to be (Will James, Sand, 
[New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
1929], 294). 

bronc stomper 

Another rider of the rough string, 
which the old-timer would describe as a 
"man with a heavy seat and a light head." 

bronc tree 

A saddle with dished cantle and swell 
fork, made especially for riding bad 
horses. Same as bronc saddle. 

bronc twister 

Still another term for bronc buster. 


Range mare, a horse with long bushy 
tail. Usually shortened to brooniie. 

brow band 

The front part of a bridle. 

brown gargle 

A slang name for coffee. 

brush buster 

A cowboy expert at running cattle in 
the brush. Cowboys of the plains country 
have a much easier time working cattle 
than the brush hand. The brush hand has 
to be a good rider because he has to ride 
in every position to dodge the brush. At 
one time or another during his ride, he 
is practically all over the horse, first in 
one position, then in an entirely different 
one, as he dodges. In order to dodge suc- 
cessfully, he has to keep his eyes open, 

although thorns and limbs are constantly 
tearing at his face. When he comes out 
of the brush, he perhaps has knots on his 
head and little skin left on his face, but 
he goes right back in at the first oppor- 

The brush hand dresses differently 
from the plains cowboy. Compared with 
the romantic cowboy of fiction, he is a 
sorry-looking cuss. No big hats or fancy 
trappings for him. He is not much in the 
sun, and a big hat gives too much sur- 
face for the brush to grab. His chaps are 
never of the hair variety, and flapping 
leather bat-wings are likely to be snag- 
ged. He wears a strong, close-fitting, 
canvas jacket without a tail. If he can 
afford gloves, he wears them ; otherwise, 
his skin has to pay the penalty. Some of 
the tougher busters claim it is "cheaper to 
grow skin than buy it" anyway. His sad- 
dle is a good one, though smooth and 
without fancy stamping to invite the hold 
of thorns. Every saddle is equipped with 
heavy bull-nosed tapaderos and these, to- 
gether with his ducking-covered elbows, 
fend off most of the whipping brush. (J. 
Frank Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush 
Country [Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 

The brush hand does practically all 
his work on horseback, is tireless and 
full of courage. No other cowman is such 
a glutton for punishment. 

brush country 

A country covered with low-growing 
trees and brush. The most famous sec- 
tion of such a country is in southwestern 

Brush Country 

See brush country, brush hand, brush 
horse, brush popper, brush roper, brush 
roundup, brush splitters, brush thump- 
er, brush whacker, limb skinner. 

brush hand 

A cowboy of the brush country. 

brush horse 

This is usually a light-weight horse 
and has to be agile, although a big horse 
is better for making an opening. It re- 
quires little reining, and once it gets 
sight of the cow, nothing can stop it (J. 
Frank Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush 



Country [Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 
206). Like its rider, the brush horse is a 
brute for punishment and game as they 
come. The number of horses in the brush 
hand's mount is greater than in other 
mounts because the work is too hard to 
keep a horse at it long at a time. Between 
rides each horse is given a rest to allow 
the thorns to work out and the wounds 
to heal. Yet no matter how stove-up it 
becomes, it is always ready to break into 
the brush at the first opportunity. 

brush popper 

The most popular name for the brush 
hand. He knows he would never catch a 
cow by looking for a soft entrance ; there- 
fore, he hits the thicket center, hits it flat, 
hits it on the run, and tears a hole in it. 



It is said that just two things are re- 
quired to make a good brush roper — a 
damned fool and a race horse (J. Frank 
Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country 
[Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 211). 
Nevertheless, he is without a peer when 
it comes to roping. He uses a short rope, 
a small loop, and frequently has nothing 
but a hind foot to dab his rope on. There 
is neither space nor time to swing a loop, 
and to avoid entanglements his cast must 
be made expertly at just the right mo- 
ment. The plains cowboy, with his long 
rope and his wide, swinging loop, would 
be worthless in the brush country. 

brush roundup 

This is more of a drive than it is a 
roundup and is done quietly. It takes 
many "workings" to scare out a good 
percentage of the hidden cattle. The 
drive starts as early in the morning as 
possible, as cattle in the brush country 
can not be worked well in the heat of the 
day. Often these drives are made on 
moonlight nights because brush cattle 
lie in the brush and bottoms during the 
day and come out on the grass to feed 
at night. 

brush splitters 

Cattle of the brush country. 

brush thumper 

Another slang name for the man who 
works in the brush country. 

brush whacker 

A brush hand. 


A term used in the Northwest for 
cowboy. The terms baquero, buckhara, 
and buckayro, each a perversion of either 
the Spanish word vaquero or boyero, are 
also used (Philip A. Rollins, The Cow- 
boy [New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
1936], 39)- 


A light, four-wheeled vehicle in which 
elastic boards or slats, extending from 
axle to axle and upon which the seat 
rests, take the place of the ordinary 
springs. Instead of sides on the body, it 
has an iron rail, three or four inches in 
height, which holds in luggage or other 
packages carried on its floor. 

buckboard driver 

A mail carrier. Called this because he 
usually used this vehicle for his deliveries. 
Ranch mails, especially in the early days, 
were always small, no matter how in- 
frequent their coming or how large the 
outfit. The owner's business involved lit- 
tle correspondence, and the boys' inspired 
less. Few with close home ties exiled 
themselves on the range. Many were on 
the scout from the scene of some shooting 
scrape and known by no other name than 
a nickname. 


A horse that pitches. 

See beast with a bellyful of bed 
springs, blind bucker, bucker, cinch 
binder, close-to-the-ground bucker, cloud- 
hunter, gut-twister, high-roller, honest 
pitcher, killer, livin' lightnin', pile-driv- 
er, pioneer bucker, run-away bucker, 
show bucker, spinner, sulker, sunfisher, 

bucket dogie 

Sometimes stockmen purchased calves 
in the corn belt, or from farmers, and 
shipped them to their ranches to restock 
the range. These were called bucket 

bucket man 

A contemptuous name given the cow- 
boy by the rustler. 


Western Words 

buck fever 

Violent nervousness; sometimes called 
buck ague. 

buck hook 

A blunt-nosed, up-curved piece added 
to the frame of the spur and used to lock 
in the cinch or in the side of a plunging 


Synonymous with the Texas term, 
f itching. See pitching. 


See blow up, bogged his head, boil 
over, break in two, broken, bucking, 
bucking on a dime, buckin' straight 
away, casueying, cat-back, chinnin' the 
moon, circle buck, come apart, come un- 
done, crawfish, crow hop, double shuffle, 
fall back, fence corner, fence wormin', 
fold up, goat, haul hell out of its shuck, 
hop for mama, jack-knifing, kettling, 
kick the lid off, moan, pinwheel, pitch- 
ing, pitchin' fence-cornered, pump- 
handle, pussy-back, rainbowin', rear- 
back, settin' the buck, shoot his back, 
slattin' his sails, straight buck, stuck his 
bill in the ground, sunfishing, swallowed 
his head, swapping ends, throw back, 
tryin' to chin the moon, turned through 
himself, turn a wildcat, unwind, walkin' 
beamin', waltz with a lady, warps his 
backbone, watchin' the op'ra, whing- 
ding, windmilling, wrinkled his spine. 

bucking on a dime 

Said when a bucking horse does his 
bucking in one spot. 

bucking rein 

Usually a single rope attached to the 
hackamore of a bucking horse. By grip- 
ping this, the rider has an aid in keeping 
his balance, but in contests he is not per- 
mitted to change hands. 

bucking rim 

A round-headed projection on the 
cantle of some saddles. 

bucking roll 

A roll of blankets tied across the sad- 
dle, just behind the fork, to help wedge 
the rider in the saddle and make it more 
difficult for the horse to throw him. 
Sometimes it is a leather pad, stuffed 

with hair, three or four inches high, and 
tied down on each side of the fork just 
behind the horn. 

bucking the tiger 

Playing faro. During the early days 
the professional gambler of the frontier 
carried his faro outfit in a box upon 
which was painted the picture of a Royal 
Bengal tiger. Tigers were also pictured 
upon his chips and oilcloth layout, and 
the game became known as the tiger. 

buckin' straight away 

This buck consists of long jumps 
straight ahead without any twists, whirl- 
ing, or rearing, an easy horse for some 
to ride, yet poison for others. Straight- 
away buckers are usually big and strong 
and rough in their actions. Their chief 
stock in trade is to jump extremely high, 
then, as they start down, to kick high 
with their hindquarters. At the same time 
the cantle of the saddle hits the seat of 
the rider's pants, and the rider hits the 
dirt. A horse of this type usually hurts 
his rider when bucking him off, because 
he generally throws him high and hard. 
(Bruce Clinton, "Buckin' Horses," West- 
ern Horse-man, III, No. 3 [May— June, 
1938], 10.) 


A recluse, a man who lives alone. 

buck out 

To die. Commonly used to express a 
tragic death. 

buck out in smoke 

To die in a gun battle. 


A horse of light yellowish color pro- 
duced by the mixture of sand and blood 

buck strap 

A narrow strap riveted to the leather 
housing of the saddle just below and on 
the off side of the base of the horn. Top 
riders have nothing but contempt for 
this hand hold, and of course it is barred 
at contests. 

buck the saddle 

Said when a green bronc, at the first 
saddling, is allowed to buck with the 
empty saddle while he is held by a rope. 




A mark of ownership made by cutting 
down a strip of skin on the nose of an 

bueno (boo-ay'no) 

A Spanish word, meaning good or 
ferfect of its kind, but during open-range 
days in the Southwest, it was also used 
as a cattle term. In this sense, it meant 
that the animal called thus was "good" 
in that it had not been claimed by any- 
one at the roundup, and that its brand 
could not be found in the brand book. 
Such animals were "good" pickups be- 
cause they were supposed to get by brand 
inspectors at shipping points and market 
^centers. (Jack Potter to R.F.A.) 


A slangy synonym for mentally con- 
fused, bluffed. 

buffalo gun 

A heavy caliber rifle used by the buf- 
falo, hunters, usually a Sharps .50. 

buffalo mange 

A western name for lice, of which the 
buffalo hunters usually had a supply. 

buffalo skinner 

A man who made a business of skin- 
ning buffaloes for their hides. 

buffalo soldier 

The Indian's name (adopted by the 
cowboy) for the Negro soldier of the 
early frontier forts, because of his color 
and kinky hair. 

buffalo wallow 

A depression in the prairie which had 
been hollowed out by the wallowing of 

buggy boss 

Title given an eastern owner of a 
ranch, who rode around in a buggy on 
his inspection tour because he did not 
ride horseback well. 

bug juice 

A slang name for whiskey. 

build a smoke under his hoofs 

Shooting at another's feet. 

building a loop 

Shaking out the noose in preparation 
for a throw with a rope. 

built high above his corns 

Said of a tall person. Cowboys are 
strong for exaggerations. I heard one 
speak of another's being "so tall it'd 
take a steeple- jack to look 'im in the 
eye," and again, "so tall he couldn't tell 
when his feet was cold." 


To appear suddenly, as, "He bulged 
into the road ahead." 


A slang name for the bronc buster. 


To throw one's right arm over a steer's 
neck, the right hand gripping the loose, 
bottom skin at the base of the right horn 
or the brute's nose, while the left hand 
seizes the tip of the brute's left horn. 
The dogger then rises clear of the ground, 
and, by lunging his body downward 
against his own left elbow, so twists the 
neck of the animal that the latter loses 
his balance and falls. The first bulldog- 
ger was a Negro named Tom Pickett, 
and he astonished the cowboys of his day 
by dropping off a running horse on the 
neck of a steer and throwing the animal 
by hand. Others began trying it with suc- 
cess, but it was not until a good many 
years later that enough of them were 
present at any one rodeo to make a con- 
test. As far back as 1 9 1 o and 1 9 1 1 a 
single steer was bulldogged at some 
shows, purely as an exhibition. 


One who bulldogs. 


See dogger, hoolihaning, mug, twist- 
ing down. 


A slang name for short tapaderos. 


When a cowboy speaks of an animal's 
bulling on him, he means that it balked 
or refused to move. 


A dehorned animal. 


Western Words 

bull hides 

A frequent name for heavy leather 

bull nurse 

A cowboy who accompanies a ship- 
ment of cattle on the train to their ulti- 
mate destination. 

bull riding 

An event at rodeos, where the con- 
testant rides a bull equipped with bull 
rigging. In the early contests the rider 
was allowed to hang on with both hands, 
setting himself well back, with his feet 
well forward, and spurring the shoulders 
and neck only. Later two hands were 
barred, one hand had to be kept free, 
and finally the surcingle was abandoned 
altogether and a loose rope substituted. 

bull riggin' 

A specially made surcingle used at 
rodeos for riding wild bulls. It consists 
of a heavy leather strap, three inches 
wide and about two feet long with two 
hand holds about nine inches apart. At 
each end is a heavy ring to which latigos 
and cinch are attached as on a saddle. 
Not used in present-day rodeos. 

bull shoes 

Shoes, sometimes made of rawhide, 
sometimes of iron, placed on the feet of 
work oxen, much after the fashion of 
horseshoes, to keep their feet from getting 

bull's manse 

The home of the big boss. 

bull tailing 

A game once popular with the Mexi- 
can cowboys of Texas. One bull would 
be released from a pen of wild bulls, and 
with much yelling a cowboy took after 
him. Seizing the bull by the tail, the 
rider rushed his horse forward and a lit- 
tle to one side, throwing the bull off his 
balance and "busting" him with terrific 
force. American cowboys are more hu- 
mane and seldom indulge in this sport. 
(J. Frank Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush 
Country [Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 
16, 19.) Bull tailing may be considered 
the forerunner of bulldogging, but with 
the increase in the value of cattle, own- 

ers frowned upon the tailing of their 
stock, and the sport died out. 


A man who drove (called whacked) 
the ox teams in early freighting days. 

bull whip 

A heavy cow whip, sometimes the 
knotted end of a rope. 


A balky horse. 


A group of cattle (as noun) ; to herd 
a group of cattle together (as verb). 

bunch grasser 

A range horse living upon bunch grass ; 
also a man who lives in the foothills. 

bunch ground 

Occasional name for roundup grounds. 

bunch quitter 

A horse that has the habit of leaving 
the remuda and pulling for the home 
ranch or to parts unknown. 


A built-in bed (as noun) ; to sleep, to 
sleep with another (as verb). 


Sleeping quarters of the cowhands at 
a ranch. 


See bunkhouse, dice-house, dive, dog- 
house, dump, ram pasture, shack. 

burn cattle 

Said of branding. 

burn 'em and boot 'em 

Branding calves. After a calf is brand- 
ed, it is usually booted toward its anxious 

burnin' and trimmin' up calves 

Branding, earmarking, and castrating 

burn powder 

To shoot. 

burnin' rawhide 

Branding. Used mostly with reference 
to rustling. 



burnt till he looks like a brand 

Said of a much-branded horse. A horse 
with many brands shows that he has 
changed hands often and that he has no 
friends among any of his former own- 
ers. A good sign that he is untrustworthy. 

burn the breeze 

To ride at full speed. One cowhand, 
in telling of a fast ride he made, said 
that when he "pushed on the reins, I had 
that hoss kickin' the jack rabbits out of 
the trail." 

burro (boo'r-ro) 

Not burrow, as pronounced by many 
Americans. A donkey, an ass. This ani- 
mal was extensively used in the early 
West as a carrier of freight. The word 
also means a stand made like the roof 
of a house, upon which to keep a saddle 
when it is not in use. Using a burro is 
much better than laying the saddle down 
or hanging it by a stirrup. If the cow- 
hand does lay his saddle down, he lays 
it on its side or stands it on its head. He 
does not drop it on the skirts. If he hangs 
it up, it is usually by the horn string. 

burro load 

This term is often used as a unit of 
measure, as we use feck or bushel, espe- 
cially in the hauling of firewood bought 
by the burro load. 


See plant, put to bed with a pick and 
shovel. See also death. 

bury the hatchet 

Expression of Indian origin, meaning 
to cease hostilities and again become 

buscadero (boos-cah-day'ro) 

From the Spanish buscar, meaning to 
search for, to seek. Used in the South- 
west for a tough, gun-carrying officer of 
the law. Later occasionally used to mean 
any gunman. 

buscadero belt 

A belt made from four to six inches 
wide with a slotted flap on each hip for 
carrying the gun. 


Exhausted, worn out; also short for 


To ambush. One cowboy friend used 
to say, "Some men are bad — behind a 

business riding 

When a rider of a bucking horse is 
unable to spur his mount, he hooks his 
spurs in the cinch, and makes it his "busi- 
ness" to stay on — if possible. 


To throw an animal violently, to 
break a horse. 

busted cinch 

Either j ust that, or an expression mean- 
ing failure. 

busted flush 

Plans gone awry. 


Short for bronco buster, a breaker of 
bad horses. 


See bronc breaker, bronc buster, bronc 
fighter, bronc peeler, bronc scratcher, 
bronc snapper, bronc squeezer, bronc 
stomper, bronc twister, bull-bat, buster, 
contract buster, flash rider, jinete, peeler, 
rough-string rider, twister. 


The man, during branding, who cuts 
the earmarks, dewlaps, wattles, and other 
inerasable marks of identification on the 
animal's anatomy. 


A conspicuous hill or mountain left 
standing in an area reduced by erosion. 

butterboard weaner 

Blab for weaning a calf. See blab 


The first act in ordinary trick roping 
is to start the rope spinning, either in 
front of your person or around your 
head. Then the noose is enlarged and 
rapidly darted from side to side, vertical- 


Western Words 

ly spinning to the right and then to the 
left, in a stunt called butterfly. 


A motherless calf. 

buttermilk cow 

A slang name for a bull. 

buttermilk horse 

What the cowboys of some sections 
call a palomino. 


The cowboy's name for a boy. 

buy a trunk 

An expressive western phrase meaning 
to leave the country. 

buyin' chips 

A gambling term; also said of one 
who takes part, unasked, in a dispute or 


A poor horse. In cowboy parlance 
one which "was dead but jes' wouldn't 
lie down." 


A mean-tempered range horse. 


Another name for bat-wing chaps. 


A spur whose rowel has a few, long, 
sharp points. 


"Only a fool argues with a skunk, a mule, or a cook" 

caballada (cah-bal-lyah'dah) 

In Spanish // sounds like the English 
y ; ada is a Spanish suffix meaning a 
group of. Thus vaca is cow, and vacada 
is a drove of covjs; caballo is horse, and 
caballada is a band of horses. The word 
means a band of saddle horses wherever 
they may be — the extra horses, not at 
the time under saddle — the supply of 
mounts maintained by a ranch. This word 
is not used in referring to unbroken 
horses, but is reserved for those used as 
saddle horses. Though it is a Spanish 
word, the Mexican corrupted it into 
cavayer or cav-ayah, and the American 
cowboy pushed it further into cavvieyah, 
cavoy or cavvy. 

caballero (cah-bal-lyay'ro) 

Horseman. Translated literally it 
means a cavalier or knight. A hardened 
but gay cowboy who can jump on his 
horse at any moment and tell the rest 
of the world to go to hell. 

caballo (cah-bahTlyo) 

A horse. The word is used in light 
conversation, but mostly the cowboy calls 
his horse a hoss. 

cabestro (cah-bes'tro) 

Spanish for halter. The American 
cowboy uses this word mostly to dis- 
tinguish a horsehair-rope halter, which 
he calls cabestro, from a leather one. 

cabin fever 

When two or more cowboys are 
snowed in at a line-camp and forced to 
spend so much time in each other's com- 
pany that they become hostile to each 
other, they are said to get cabin fever. 


What the cowboy calls the rope he 
uses for a rope corral. See rope corral. 


Lot, aggregation, amount. 


A rawhide cradle under the wagon for 
carrying fuel. 

cabron (cah-brone') 

Spanish for he-goat, a person who con- 
sents to the adultery of his wife. Used in 
the Southwest to mean an outlaw of 
low breeding and principle. 




From the French cacher, meaning to 
conceal. Hide (used as both a noun and 
a verb). 


Not only a thorny plant of many va- 
rieties, but also a term sometimes used 
in referring to the desert country. 

cactus boomers 

A popular nickname for wild brush 


In partnership. The cowman always 
throvoed, in or went into cahoots with 
another man when he entered a partner- 

cake wagon 

A wagon used on modern ranches to 
carry cottonseed-meal cake to feed cattle. 

calf crop 

Calves born during the season. 

calf horse 

A horse used in roping, so trained that 
he will back away, still facing the thrown 
animal, to take up the slack. 

calf on the ground 

The flanker's call to the ropers that 
the calf to be branded had been thrown. 

calf on the string 

The roper's call that the calf to be 
branded had been roped. 

calf roping 

In this rodeo event, the cowboy, astride 
a horse, must rope a calf, jump from 
his horse, dash to the calf, and tie the 
animal by three legs against time. The 
event had its origin in actual practice. 
Cowboys on roundup had to rope the 
calf and drag it to the branding fire in 
the same way as in the contest. 

calf 'round 

To loaf, to idle about. It is, in the 
language of one cowhand, "keepin' 'bout 
as busy as a hibernatin' bear." 

calf roundup 

Synonymous with sfring roundup and 
primarily for the purpose of branding 

the calves born during the winter. It 
occurs after the grass has come, taking 
place in March throughout the South 
and on correspondingly later dates in the 
more northern latitudes. 

calf slobbers 

Cowboy's name for meringue. 

calf wagon 

A wagon used by some of the old trail 
drivers to pick up and haul the calves 
born en route. Some trailers did not carry 
such a wagon, and, rather than delay 
the herd, killed the calves or gave them 
to settlers if any happened to live near. 


A pinto horse ; also the cowboy's slang 
name for a woman, taken from the dress 
material commonly worn. It was said in 
the old West that "calico on the range 
was scarce as sunflowers on a Christmas 

calico queen 

The frontier name for a woman of 
the honkytonks. 


To throw an animal by tripping it. 

California buckskin 

Baling wire. 

California collar 

A hangman's noose, taking this name 
from the vigilante days of California, 
when it was freely used to curb lawless- 

California drag rowel 

Spur whose rowels drag the ground 
when its wearer is afoot. It is of the Span- 
ish California type, straight heelband, 
with a small button on the end to loop 
the spur-leather on, and the heel-chains 
passing under the instep to hold it in po- 
sition on the boot. 

California moccasins 

Sacks bound about the feet to prevent 
their freezing. 

California pants 

A style of pants used on the range, 
usually of striped or checked heavy wool 
of excellent double weave. 


Western Words 

California reins 

Reins made of one piece of leather 
with no separation of each rein as with 
the open reins. 

California rig 

A one-cinched saddle on a California 

California skirts 

When the stock saddle has round 
skirts, it is said to have California skirts, 
for these are the favorite style in that 

California sorrel 

A red-gold horse of the palomino type. 

California twist 

A roping term meaning to cast the 
rope with a single overhand twist and 
no twirling. 

calling the brands 

Ability to give brands a name. Brands 
have made necessary the coining of a 
language all their own, and though they 
are an enigma to the tenderfoot, the 
cowman is very adept at reading them. 


See acorn calf, blab, blab board, blue 
meat, bucket dogie, butterboard wean- 
er, calf crop, calf roundup, calf wagon, 
churn-dash calf, deacon, dogie, droop- 
eyed, hairy-dicks, hot foot, leppy, long 
yearling, mug, open heifer, orejano, pail 
fed, poddy, rusties, sanchos, short year- 
ling, skimmy, sleeper, slick, spike wean- 
er, weaner, wind-belly, wrastlin' calves, 

cama (cah'mah) 

Spanish, meaning bed, and used as an 
occasional name for the cowboy's bed- 


See sage-henning. 

camping on his trail 

Following someone closely. 

campo santo (cahm'po sahn'to) 

The Mexican name for a graveyard. 
Campo meaning field, and santo means 
sacred, literally a holy field. The expres- 

sion is not commonly used, but is well 
understood in the Southwest. 


See boar's nest, bog camp, bog hole, 
cow camp, dry camp, Jones' place, line- 
camp, sign camp. 

camp-staller % 

A horse that refuses to leave camp in 
the mornings. 


To wire a tin can to a cow's neck to 
prevent fence breaking ; also to discharge 
an employee. 

canned cow 

Canned milk. 

can openers 

Slang name for spurs. 


Saddle pockets. 


The raised back of the saddle. 


Riding loosely and hitting the cantle 
or back of the saddle. 

cantle drop 

The outside of the back of the cantle 
of a saddle. 

can't hook cattle 

Cattle without horns, muleys. 

can't whistle 

The cowboy's name for a harelipped 


A deep valley, with high steep sides. 
The Spanish word originally meant a 
large tube or funnel. 

cap-and-ball layout 

A shiftless and unprogressive ranch 
or outfit. 

caponera (cah-po-nay'rah) 

From the Spanish capon, meaning a 
castrated animal. A herd of geldings. 

caporal (cah-po-rhar) 

The boss, the manager or assistant 
manager of a ranch. 




A man who frequents the gambling 
houses, and who, by being allowed by 
the dealer to win large sums, leads the 
unwary cowboy to buck a brace game. 

cap rock 

The escarpment of the High Plains, 
as the Cap Rock of the Texas Panhandle. 

carajoing (cah-ray'ho-ing) 

Shouting "Carajo" (cah-ray'ho)l An 
exclamation used by mule skinners, cow- 
boys, and other outdoor workers (J. 
Frank Dobie, Coronado's Children [Dal- 
las, Southwest Press, 1930], 362). 

Care for 

See ride herd on. 

careless with his branding iron 

Said of a rustler, or one suspected of 
having designs on other folks' livestock. 

carnival hand 

A stunt rider. 


See pack. 

carry the news to Mary 

Said when a horse runs off with the 
saddle on his back. 


A spur with a rowel having few, but 
long, points radiating from its axle ; also 
what a silver dollar is sometimes called. 

carvin' horse 

A cutting horse. 

carvin' scollops on his gun 

Making credits, or notches on a gun 
to commemorate a killing. 

casa grande (cah'sah grahn'day) 

Literally a large house, but to the 
Spanish-American ranch life it meant 
the place where all the hands gathered 
for fun and frolic; the owner's home, 
used only in the Southwest. 

case of slow 

Said of the loser in a gun-fight, said 
of a man too slow in getting his gun into 

case of worms 

An animal with screwworms. 

cash in 

To pass from this mortal life, to die. 

cash in his six-shooter 

An outlaw's phrase for holding up a 

casueying (ka-soo'ying) 

A South Texas term for ■pitching, but 
rarely heard in other sections. 

catalog woman 

A wife secured through a matrimonial 
bureau. Usually, as Alibi Allison said, 
"one o' them widders that wants 'er 
weeds plowed under." 


A slang term for mild bucking. 


Said of a badman who has to be con- 
stantly watchful to keep from being 
"downed" by a rival jealous of his repu- 
tation. Most men of this type make it 
their business to sit with their backs to 
the wall, facing the door. If the door 
is closed, they watch the knob for ad- 
vance notice of an entrant. In cowboy 
lingo, "You'd never find 'im settin' on 
his gun hand." 


A slang name for a rope, particularly 
a rawhide one. 


Short for cantamount, literally moun- 
tain cat; cougar. 


A hybrid offspring of buffalo and 
cattle, the first of which were the results 
of experiments by Charles Goodnight, of 


See animal, bed-slat ribs, beef, beef 
cut, beefing, bend, big antelope, black- 
jack steer, blizzard choked, bounce, bow 
up, breachy, brockled, brush splitters, 
bueno, bulled, bullheads, bunch, butter- 
milk cow, cactus boomers, can, can't 
hook cattle, case of worms, cattalo, cattle 
grubs, cedar braker, coaster, cold-blood- 
ed stock, come out a-stoopin', combings, 
corriente, cow, cowpen herd, critter, 
cull, cut, cut-back, cutter herds, cutting 
out, day herd, dehorn, dew-claws, die 


Western Words 

up, doctor, double-wintered, downer, 
down steer, drag, drift, drive, droop- 
eyed, droop-horn, dry drive, dry stock, 
duke, dust, fallen hide, feeders, fence 
crawler, full-ear, gentler, Goodnighting, 
grade up, grass-bellied, grass train, 
grown stuff, grubber, heavy cow, herd, 
herd broke, horned jack rabbit, horn- 
swoggling, hospital cattle, hot bloods, 
hothouse stock, Judas steer, just a ball 
of hair, kettle-bellied, kneeing, ladinos, 
lead steer, line-back, line breeding, lobo 
stripe, loco, longhorn, long yearling, 
marker, maverick, mealy nose, Mexican 
buckskin, milk pitcher, mixed cattle, 
mixed herd, mocho, mossy-horn, mother- 
up, mountain boomer, muley, mustard 
the cattle, necking, Nellie, night drive, 
night herd, on their heads, on the hoof, 
on the lift, open-faced cattle, open heif- 
er, pasture count, pegging, petalta, pil- 
grim, pitted, pony beeves, pot-bellied, 
poverty cattle, prayin' cow, pure, range 
count, range delivery, rawhide, rough 
steer, run over, rusties, sabinas, scala- 
wag, scrub, sea lions, she stuff, shootin' 
'em out, shorthorn, short yearling, slick, 
slow elk, smoking out the cattle, snubbed, 
snubbed stock, Sonora reds, splitting the 
herd, splitting the tail, spoiled herd, 
springer, squeezin' 'em down, stags, stam- 
pede, stampeder, stockers, stool-and- 
bucket cow, straight steer herd, strays, 
stripper, stub-horn, stuff, surly, tailings, 
tailing up, take on, tenderfoots, throw 
out, toro, trail broke, trail count, trail 
herd, tullies, turn-out time, twist-horn, 
vaca, vacada, walkin' the fence, weedy, 
wet stock, white-faces, wind-belly, win- 
dies, winter kill, wrinkle-horn, Yaks, 
yellow bellies, zorillas. 

cattle grubs 

The larvae of the heel fly. 

Cattle Kate 

A general name for a woman connect- 
ed with cattle rustling. "Cattle Kate 
Maxwell," whose real name was Ella 
Watson, was hanged with Jim Averill 
for cattle stealing, in Wyoming in 1889 
during the Rustler's War. Though his- 
tory doesn't prove her to be a thief, her 
name has gone down as such. 


One who raises cattle. 


See little feller, longhorn, range pi- 
rate, sharpshooter, stock detective. 


A narrow boardwalk along the top 
of a shipping chute, used by the cowboy 
to assist in driving cattle into the cars. 

caught in his own loop 

Said of one who fails through some 
fault of his own. 

caught short 

Unarmed in a crisis. In the language 
of one cowhand speaking of an unarmed 
man, "He was caught short and now he's 
deader'n hell in a preacher's back yard." 

caverango (cah-vay-rran'go) 

An English corruption of the Spanish 
caballerango which means he <who cares 
for horses. The cowman further short- 
ened it to wrangler. See wrangler. 


The remuda or band of saddle horses. 
Used more commonly on the northern 
ranges. See caballada. 


Said of a horse broken to run with the 
saddle horses. 

cavvy man 

Another name for the horse wrangler, 
one who keeps the saddle horses together. 

cayuse (ki'yuse) 

The name of the wild horse of Ore- 
gon, called this for the Cayuse Indian 
tribe, an equestrian people; synonymous 
with mustang. Commonly used by the 
northern cowboy in referring to any 
horse. At first the term was used for the 
western horse, to set it apart from a 
horse brought overland from the East. 
In later years the name was applied as 
a term of contempt to any scrubby, un- 
dersized horse. (Francis Haines, "The 
Cayuse Horse," Western Horseman, II, 
No. 2 [March— April, 1937], 11.) 

cedar brakes 

Broken land overgrown with scrub 

cedar braker 

One of the wild stock which range 
high in the cedar brakes. 




See blow out. 


See bone-orchard, bone-yard, boot- 
hill, campo santo, grave patch. 


A name for a saddle with one cinch, 
this being placed near the center of the 
saddle; also called single-fire, single- 
rigged, single-barreled, and California 
rig. This saddle is not much good in a 
mountainous country as the cinch will 
not hold when going downhill. 

chain bit 

A bit made of a short piece of chain. 

chain hobble 

The fastening of a short chain, about 
two feet long, to the horse's forelegs, 
left loose at the other end. This method 
of hobbling is not commonly used, be- 
cause the loose end strikes the horse's legs 
if he starts to run, and besides causing 
pain often trips and injures him. 

changing mounts 

This is routine work with a cow out- 
fit during roundup and occurs several 
times a day. A rider may change his 
circle horse for his cutting horse, or a 
rope horse, according to the duty he is 
going to perform. Later, if going on 
night herd, he changes to his night horse. 
There are always a few broncs in his 
string, and he works them in rotation to 
give his other horses a rest. He uses these 
horses on circle, and when he puts his 
saddle on one of them, the changing is 
a thrill producer. 

Since all horses of the remuda are kept 
away from the camp, when the riders are 
ready to change mounts, the wrangler 
drives the horses to camp where they 
are penned in a rope corral. Then each 
man ropes the mount he wants. In the 
early morning he usually selects the 
gentle horses, but on cold mornings even 
these have a hump in their backs. At 
noon his courage rises with the warmth 
of the sun, and he catches the wilder 
ones if he is riding circle. 

chaparral (chah-par-rahT) 

Thorny shrubs, low evergreen oaks, 

a clump or thicket formed by thorny 

chaparral bird 

A bird with long legs, long slender 
body, long tail, and large powerful beak, 
commonly living in chaparrals. It has 
wings but seldom uses them, since its 
chief defense is speed in running. It is 
also called chafarral cock and road run- 
ner, the latter because it customarily runs 
down the trail in front of a rider as if 
challenging him to a race. 

chaparral fox 

A sly, tricky person, a sneak. One of 
those fellows who, in the words of Frank 
Ortega, you "wouldn't trust as far as 
y'u could throw an elephant ag'in' the 

chaparro (chah-par'ro) 

An evergreen oak. 


The act of whipping one with a pair 
of chaps. This is often done in rough 
horseplay when a group of cowboys get 
together for a kangaroo court. When 
used against someone of vile and un- 
popular disposition, it can be severe pun- 


An American abbreviation of the 
Spanish chafarejos (chah-far-ray'hose), 
meaning leather breeches or overalls. 
This word was too much of a mouthful 
for the American cowboy, so he "bit 
shallow" and said chafs, pronouncing 
it shafs. 

They are skeleton overalls worn pri- 
marily as armor to protect a rider's legs 
from injury when he is thrown or when 
a horse falls upon him, pushes him 
against either a fence or another animal, 
carries him through brush, cacti, or other 
chaparral, or attempts to bite him; also 
they are proof against rain or cold. The 
word occurs in English dictionaries as 
chafarejos, but the Spanish word is real- 
ly chafareras (cha-far-rray'rahs). 

In spite of the movies and popular 
fiction, the cowhand sheds his chaps when 
he dismounts for ground work, for they 
are hot and uncomfortable to walk in. 
Only the hand of the brush country keeps 


Western Words 

his on, because he never knows when he 
is going to have to tear a hole in the 
brush. When the cowboy rides to town, 
he leaves his chaps hanging on a nail 
in the bunkhouse. If he does wear them, 
he takes them off when he arrives, and 
either hangs them over his saddle horn, 
leaves them at the livery stable, or throws 
them behind the bar of some saloon 
where he is known. 


See angoras, armitas, bat-wings, bull 
hides, buzzard wings, chaps, chap string, 
Cheyenne cut, chigaderos, chinkaderos, 
chivarros, dude chaps, grizzlies, hair 
pants, leggin's, open-shop pants, pinto 
chaps, riding aprons, shotgun chaps, 
twelve-hour leggin's. 

chap string 

A short string which holds the legs 
of the chaps together in front at the 
waist. It is not so strong that it will not 
break when the cowboy gets "hung up" 
in the riding gear. 

Charlie Taylor 

A substitute for butter, a mixture of 
syrup or sorghum and bacon grease. 

chase a cloud 

To be thrown high from a horse. 


From the French chasser, meaning to 
go. Chassed into is commonly used as a 
synonym for haffened ufon. 


See deal from the bottom, gig, gouge. 


Grasping the cheek strap of the bridle 
just above the bits and pulling the horse's 
head as far toward the saddle as possible 
while mounting to prevent the horse from 
running or bucking. If a man does not 
know a horse, he is sure to cheek him 
the first few times. Cheeking pulls the 
horse toward you if he starts in motion, 
and this has the advantage of almost 
swinging you into the saddle without 
effort. Swinging in the opposite direction 
would make mounting difficult. (John 
M. Hendrix, "Gittin' Up in the Big 
Middle," Cattleman, XXI, No. 5 [Oc- 
tober, 1934], 5-) 


The side part of the bridle. 


A horse of brownish hue with neither 
flax nor black mane and tail; the mane 
and the tail are always approximately 
the same color as the body. 

chew gravel 

To get thrown from a horse. 

chew it finer 

A request to explain in more simple 
words. One cowhand I know admitted 
that he'd "never got past the fly-leaf of 
a primer," and words that "showed up 
as big as a skinned hoss" discouraged 

chew the cud 

To argue, to carry on a long-winded 
conversation. Blackie Taylor spoke of 
two such old "augurs" with, "Their 
tongues was so frolicsome their prattle 
sounded like rain on a tin roof, but it 
wasn't long till they both run out o' 
smart answers." 

Cheyenne cut 

A type of wing chap developed in 
Wyoming, the wing being narrower and 
straight. The under part of the leg is 
cut back to the knee, with no snaps be- 
low that point. 

Cheyenne roll 

Frank Meanea, a saddlemaker of 
Cheyenne, to create something different 
from the current saddles of his day, 
made a saddle with a leather flange ex- 
tending over, to the rear, of the cantle- 
board, and this is called a "Cheyenne 
roll." (Bruce Clinton to R.F.A.) This 
saddle was brought out about 1870 and 
became very popular throughout the 
seventies and eighties, especially east of 
the Rockies. 

chicken horse 

Small, scrubby horse killed for dog 
and chicken feed as in recent years. 

chicken saddle 

A slang name for an unusually small 



chigaderos (chig-gah-day'ros) 

Another name for riding aprons or 
armitas. See armitas and chinkaderos. 

Chihuahuas (Chee-wah'was) 

Large Mexican spurs. Made in one 
piece with wide heel bands, the genuine 
Chihuahua spur is often a beautiful piece 
of workmanship, inlaid with silver in 
the most intricate designs, even to the 
spokes of the rowels (Dick Halliday to 

Chihuahua cart 

A heavy wooden cart with solid wood- 
en wheels. 


Not only a favorite dish of the Mexi- 
can, but also the slang name the cowboy 
sometimes gives the Mexican himself. 


Another nickname for the Mexican. 
Commonly used to mean loiv caste or 

chinkaderos (chink-ah-day'ros) 

Same as chigaderos ; often shortened 
to chinks. 

chinnin' the moon 

Said of a horse which bucks high, or 
stands on his hind feet and paws the air. 


A warm wind in the Northwest from 
the Japan current, which melts the snow 
even in midwinter; also the term used 
for the universal Indian language un- 
derstood by all tribes of the Northwest. 

chin spot 

When a white snip on the horse's face 
increases in size to include part of the 
lower lip, it is called a chin spot. 


Place where dung fuel is kept; also 
called chif file. 

chip wagon 

A two-wheeled cart used in the early 
days on the range to carry cow chips 
when wood was scarce. 

chivarras (chee-vah'rras) 

From the Spanish chiva, female goat, 

and another name for leggins or chaps, 
more commonly those made of goat skin. 

choke-bored pants 

A name given the flare-hipped, tight- 
kneed riding breeches of the Easterner. 

choke down 

To subdue an animal by choking with 
a rope. 

choke rope 

A rope placed around the horse's neck, 
used by many old-time Wild West show 
riders. When the horse lowers his head 
to buck, the rope slips down near his 
jaws. With a firm grip on the rope, the 
rider rears back against it, thus more 
or less choking the horse down, as well 
as steadying himself in the saddle and 
therefore making the ride much easier. 

choke strap 

The derisive reference to a necktie, 
something for which the cowboy has 
little need. 

choke the horn 

To catch hold of the saddle horn dur- 
ing the riding of a bucking horse. If a 
rider concentrates on holding to the horn 
instead of trying to ride with his whole 
body, the horse will soon have him 
"knockin' a hole in his vest with his 
chin." George Phillips, the old "foothill 
filosopher," once described such a rider 
with, "His head got to poppin' back and 
forth, lookin' like every jump it would 
pop plumb off, back and forth, forth and 
back, jes' like he was sayin' how-de-doo, 

cholla (choriyah) 

A particularly spiny species of cactus. 
It grows to a height of six or eight feet 
and has many stumpy branches which are 
easily detached, and on this account has 
a most vicious reputation for embedding 
itself in passers-by. 

choosin' match 

The selection of mounts on a ranch. 
The choice rotates according to seniority 
with the firm, and each puncher chooses 
his string from the remuda of the ranch. 
His choice is final, and even the foreman 
respects it. 


Western Words 


A man employed in cutting out cattle. 

chopping horse 

A slang name for a cutting horse. 


This word, as used by the cowboy, 
means to handle cattle roughly, to make 
them nervous, to annoy them and stir 
them up unnecessarily. 


The cowboy's name for food. 


See air-tights, Arbuckle's, axle grease, 
bait, bear-sign, belly-wash, black-strap, 
boggy top, brown gargle, calf slobbers, 
canned cow, Charlie Taylor, chuck, 
chuck wagon chicken, cow grease, cut 
straw and molasses, dip, district attor- 
ney, doughgods, fancy fluff-duffs, fried 
chicken, frijoles, grub, grub-pile, grub- 
stake, gun-wadding bread, hen-fruit 
stir, horse-thief's special, hot rock, 
huckydummy, immigrant butter, jerky, 
John Chinaman, Kansas City fish, lar- 
rup, lick, lining his flue, long sweetenin', 
machinery belting, man at the pot, 
Mexican strawberries, moonshine, moun- 
tain oyster, muck-a-muck, music roots, 
nigger-in-a-blanket, padding out his 
belly, pig's vest with buttons, pooch, 
poor doe, potluck, prairie strawberries, 
sea plum, sinkers, skid grease, slow elk, 
soft grub, son-of-a-bitch-in-a-sack, son- 
of-a-bitch stew, sop, sourdoughs, sour- 
dough bullet, sourdough keg, sow bos- 
om, splatter dabs, spotted pup, staked to 
a fill, state's eggs, Supaway John, swamp 
seed, Texas butter, throat-ticklin' grub, 
trapper's butter, wasp nests, whistle- 
berries, wool with the handle on. 


Bolted to the rear of the chuck wagon 
is the chuck-box. It has a hinged lid that, 
when let down and supported by a stout 
leg, forms a wide shelf or table. This is 
the cook's private property and woe unto 
the nervy puncher who tries to use it for 
a dining table. Occasionally this privi- 
lege is granted to the wrangler, who 
generally eats after all the others have 
finished and are changing horses, but 
never to a rider. 

Convenient drawers are made for 
plates, cups, and knives and forks. Others 
are stored with coffee, bacon, beans, and 
other chuck. Also in every chuck-box 
the cook has a drawer for a few simple 
remedies such as liniment, pills, salts, 
quinine, and calomel; and he might 
sneak in a bottle of whiskey for his per- 
sonal use in case of "snake bites." See 
chuck wagon. 


A man from the East who came west 
to learn ranch work. The cowboy con- 
tends that about all the help he renders 
is to make the chuck disappear. 

chuckle-headed as a prairie dog 

Contrary, undiscerning. 

Chuck House 

See cook house, feed-bag, feed-rack, 
feed-trough, grub house, mess house, 
nose-bag, swallow-and-git-out trough. 

chucking the Rio 

Said of a cowman of the Northwest 
affecting the dress and manners of the 

chuck-line rider 

This appellation is applied to anyone 
who is out of a job and riding through 
the country. Any worthy cowboy may be 
forced to ride chuck-line at certain sea- 
sons, but the professional chuck-line 
rider is just a plain range bum, despised 
by all cowboys. He is one who takes ad- 
vantage of the country's hospitality and 
stays as long as he dares wherever there 
is no work for him to do and the meals 
are free and regular. See grub-line rider. 

chuck wagon 

The mess wagon of the cow country. 
Usually made by fitting at the back end 
of an ordinary farm wagon a large box 
which contains shelves and has at its rear 
a lid that, hinged at the bottom and 
armed with legs, makes, when lowered, 
a serviceable table. 

In the open-range days the chuck 
wagon was the most widely known and 
most talked of institution in the cattle 
country. Nothing added more to the har- 
mony of the cowboys' life than a well- 
appointed chuck wagon. It furnished a 



complete index to the good or bad man- 
agement of the ranch. 

Once a hand has thrown his bedroll 
into the wagon, he has pledged allegiance 
to the brand for which it stands, and he 
will fight for it until he leaves it. He 
may cuss the cook, the company, and 
everything connected with it, but he had 
better not hear an outsider say anything 
against it. 

The life of the cowboy away from 
headquarters has always centered around 
the chuck wagon. It is his home, his bed 
and board; it is where he gets his fresh 
horses, and it means fire, dry clothes, 
and companionship 5 it is his hospital and 
office, his playground and social center. 
At night it is his place of relaxation, 
where he spins his yarns, sings his songs, 
smokes his cigarettes at leisure, and 
spends the happiest years of his life. 

Chuck Wagon 

See chuck-box, chuck wagon, crumb 
castle, cuna, Dutch oven, fly, groanin' 
cart, growler, jewelry chest, long-eared 
chuck wagon, mess wagon, pie-box, pie 
wagon, possum-belly, round pan, sheet, 
sourdough keg, squirrel can, the wagon, 
Which way's the wagon?, wreck pan. 

chuck- wagon chicken 

Cowboy's slang name for fried bacon. 

churn-dash calf 

One, although belonging to a milk 
cow, which has not the full benefit of 
the mother's milk. 


A hard-headed horse, one with no in- 


The cowboy's contemptuous name for 
a farmer. 


A narrow, fenced lane, usually con- 
necting one corral with another; also a 
narrow passage designed for loading cat- 
tle into cattle cars, or passing them 
through into dipping vats. 

chute crazy 

Said of a horse .which rears, backs, 
and otherwise shows extreme nervous- 
ness when placed in a rodeo chute. 


See branding chute, cat-walk, chute, 
snappin' turtle, squeezer. 


See Bible, brain tablet, dream book, 
fill a blanket, makin's, prayer book, 
quirly, shuck. 

cimarron (the-mar-rone') 

Spanish, meaning wild, unruly. The 
Mexican uses it for an animal, horse, 
bovine, or even human, which, deserted 
by all its friends, runs alone and has 
little to do with the rest of its kind. Lit- 
erally, it signifies one who flees from 
civilization and becomes a fugitive or 
wild person. 


From the Spanish cincha ( theen' chah) , 
meaning girth. This is a "broad, short 
band made of coarsely woven horsehair 
or sometimes of canvas or cordage, and 
terminating at each end with a metal 
ring" (Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy 
[New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
I 936] ) 126). Together with the latigo, 
it is used to fasten the saddle upon the 
horse's back. 


See billet, cinch, cinch ring, flank 
girth, flank rigging, girth, latigo, rear 
cinch, rear girth, scratcher cinch, tack- 
berry buckle, tarrabee, trunk strap. 

cinch binder 

A horse which rears on its hind legs, 
loses its balance, and falls backward. 

cinch ring 

A metal ring at the termination of the 
cinch for fastening the cinch, by means 
of the latigo, to the saddle ring. 

cinch up 

(As verb, and never merely cinched.) 
The act of fastening the saddle upon the 
horse's back by drawing the cinch up 
tight with the latigo straps. 

circle buck 

The bucking of a horse in long, rapid, 
and evenly timed leaps in a circle of 
thirty or forty feet, the horse leaning in- 
ward toward the center of the circle. 


Western Words 

circle horse 

A horse used on circle during the 
roundup. The wilder horses are used for 
this task. They do not have to be special- 
ly trained, but they do have to be tough 
and have bottom. See on circle. 

circle rider 

One of the horsemen, who, on round- 
up, widely separate into small parties, 
starting miles from a chosen holding spot, 
then ride toward it, driving slowly 
before them all cattle encountered (Philip 
A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New York, 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 221). 

circular story 

Wherein the cowboy tells a long story 
for the benefit of the tenderfoot, rambling 
on until seemingly he has reached the 
end, but starting at the beginning and 
continuing in a circle. There is a "sell" 
at the bottom of every tale the cowboy 
tells the tenderfoot. If this "pilgrim" 
doesn't "bite," the cowboy keeps talking, 
but sooner or later the greener usually 
pulls the cork under, and then there's "a 
heap o' hilarity in camp." 

I remember a puncher who told one 
for the benefit of an old man from the 
East, and after this tale-teller had talked 
" 'til his tongue hung out like a calf- 
rope," the old man said, "Would you 
mind talking a little louder? I'm hard of 

In a case of this kind the teller of the 
yarn feels "as helpless as a dummy with 
his hands cut off," and "might as well 
been talkin' Chinee to a pack-mule." 

claim jumper 

One who unfairly and unlawfully ap- 
propriates a homestead or mine claim 
from the prior and rightful owner. 

claw leather 

To catch hold of the saddle horn dur- 
ing the riding of a bucking horse. 


A horse, of yellowish color, produced 
from the mixture of the sorrel and the 

clean his plow 

To whip a man. One puncher, in tell- 
ing of a fight he heard in the bunkhouse 

when passing it, said, "It sounded like 
they was shoein' a bronc inside." And 
when he went in to see what the trouble 
was, he found both fighters so skinned 
up "their own folks wouldn't know 'em 
from a fresh hide." 

clean straw 

What the cowboy calls clean sheets. 

clear footed 

Said of a horse which is able to dodge 
successfully gopher holes, etc. 

clipped his horns 

Said of one who has been placed in a 
disadvantageous position, to make one 


A hobble made by taking forked sticks 
about an inch and one-half or two inches 
in diameter and about two feet long and 
lashing them with rawhide thongs on the 
front legs of a horse. Used principally 
in the brush country. 

close to the blanket 

A gambler's term meaning that the 
one spoken of is about broke, or has lost 
all his money but a small amount. 

close-to-the-ground bucker 

This type of horse is very quick in his 
actions, and though bucking very hard, 
he never gets very high off the ground. 
He kicks sideways with his hindquarters 
and seems to be trying to explode and 
disintegrate. He shakes his head from 
side to side, and with ever quick-chang- 
ing movements he hurls his body through 
the air, doing everything possible to con- 
fuse his rider. With his fast and violent 
actions it seems no task for him to be- 
fuddle the rider and cause him to lose his 
sense of timing and direction. Very fre- 
quently the rider loses track of his mount 
entirely and finds himself gathering a 
handful of something he does not want. 
(Bruce Clinton, "Bucking Horses," 
Western Horseman, III, No. 3 [May- 
June, 1938], 28.) 

close herd 

To herd cattle in a compact group; 
also cheek-to-cheek dancing. 

close seat 

A steady and firm seat in the saddle. 




See baldfaced, barboquejo, bonnet 
strings, boot, bronc belt, California moc- 
casins, California pants, Cheyenne cut, 
choke-bored pants, choke strap, chucking 
the Rio, collar and hames, conk cover, 
cow riggin', custom-mades, flag at half 
mast, fried shirt, full war-paint, fuma- 
diddle, hair case, hard-boiled hat, John 
B., Levis, lid, low-necked clothes, mail- 
order catalog on foot, mule-ears, nickel- 
plated, peewees, pots, slick up, spraddled 
out, Stetson, stove-pipes, Sunday-go-to- 
meetin' clothes, teguas, totin' stars on his 
duds, unshucked, visiting harness, war 
bonnet, wipes, woolsey. 


A slang name for rope. 


A horse which rears wildly, vaults up- 
ward, and paws frantically with his fore- 

cloudin' the trail 

Hindering one in his endeavor to ac- 
complish something, deceiving. 


One of the longhorned cattle from the 
coast country of Texas. 

coasting on the spurs 

Riding with the spurs locked in the 
cinch or under the horse's shoulders. 

cocinero (coh-the-nay'roh) 

The Spanish word for cook, shortened 
to coosie by the American cowboy. See 


A humorous name for the foreman of 
a ranch. 

cocklebur outfit 

A small ranch, a "one-hoss" outfit, a 
"seedy" outfit. 

cocktail guard 

The last watch before daylight. It is 
the one despised by all herders because 
it is at a time when men most love to 
sleep. Before the watch is over, it is 
morning, the cattle are beginning to 
move, and the other cowboys are eating 
their breakfast and getting hot coffee. 

However, this term is used differently 
in various sections of the range. Some 
sections call the period of first guard, 
from six to eight o'clock, cocktail. 

coffee cooler 

A frequent name for a prospector, a 
loafer or bum. 

coffee grinding 

The incorrect way of taking dallies. 
It means that the rope is wound clock- 
wise on the saddle horn instead of coun- 
terclockwise. See dally. 


The cowboy's name for a trunk. 

coffin varnish 

A slang name for whiskey. 


Another name for rope. 

cold blazer 

To bluff. 

cold-blooded stock 

Cattle or horses without pure or hot 
blood, not thoroughbreds. 

cold brand 

A hair brand. See hair brand. 

cold deck 

To take unfair advantage. 


Cowardly. With the Westerner's con- 
tempt for cowardice, one cowhand of the 
desert country informed a group of na- 
tives who had proved their meekness 
that they "shore had cold feet for such a 
hot country." 

cold jawed 

Said of a hard-mouthed horse. 

cold trail 

Vernacular for old markings in fol- 
lowing a trail. 

collar and hames 

Aside from being a part of harness, it 
is a slang term for a stiff collar and a 


To spur a horse to make him pitch. 


Western Words 

comb his hair 

To hit one over the head with the 
barrel of a gun. After one had had his 
"hair parted" in this manner, he was, 
in the language of one cowman, apt to 
"sleep as gentle as a dead calf." 


The final cattle driven in from the 
circle on roundup. 

come along 

A rope halter made so that it will 
tighten if the horse refuses to follow, but 
will loosen if the animal obeys. 

come apart 

Said when a horse starts bucking. 

come a-smokin' 

To come shooting. 


A ready retort. Many cowmen have 
a genius for repartee. 

come out a-stoopin' 

Said when a cow comes out of a corral 
in a crouching run. 

come undone 

To buck. 

Come Upon 

See jump. 

comin' grass 

Approaching spring. A philosophy of 
the range land is, "No matter how hard 
the winter, spring always comes." 

Committee saddle 

Another name for the Association sad- 
dle adopted by modern rodeo officials. 
See Association saddle. 

community loop 

A slang expression to convey the idea 
that the roper threw an extra-large loop 
or noose. 

compadre (com-pah'dray) 

A Spanish term, meaning close friend, 
■partner, companion, or protector. Fre- 
quently used by cowboys in the southern 


See kick like a bay steer. 

complex spin 

A roping term which signifies the 
spinning of two nooses, one horizontal 
and the other vertical, or both alike, op- 
erated separately, one in each hand. 

compressed hay 

Humorous name for dried cow chips 
used for fuel. 

concha (con'chah) 

A shell-shaped ornament of metal. 
Literally the Spanish word means a shell. 
In the language of the cowboy it means 
a small, semi-flat, circular metal disk, 
usually made of silver. It is used for 
decorative purposes, attached to chaps, 
saddle skirt, brow band of the bridle, 
belt, or hatband. 


See buffaloed, got his spurs tangled up. 

conk cover 

Cowboy slang for hat. 

connected brand 

One which combines two or more let- 
ters or figures so that they run together. 

contest saddle 

Same as Committee saddle. 

contract buster 

A man who makes his living by his 
ability to sit a bucking horse. He does 
most of his work at so much per head 
and finds employment on the smaller 
ranches which are unable to maintain a 
first-class rider throughout the year. He 
travels through the country from ranch 
to ranch, breaking horses as he goes, and 
will ride anything that wears hair. 

conversation fluid 

Whiskey. Some Westerners drink only 
enough to "gather a talkin' load," but 
there are others who can't stop " 'til they 
get floored or frenzied." 


A preacher. 


If ever there was an uncrowned king, 
it is the old-time range cook. He had to 
be good to qualify as a wagon cook be- 
cause he had to be both versatile and re- 
sourceful. He was the most important in- 



dividual in camp, and even the boss paid 
him homage. He was conscious of his 
autocratic powers, and his crankiness is 
still traditional. 

The present-day range cook follows 
this tradition. He can absolutely be de- 
pended upon to have three hot meals a 
day, rain or shine, cold or hot, that are 
good to eat and in sufficient quantity 
that, no matter how much company drops 
in, there will be plenty to go round. 
Through necessity his equipment is lim- 
ited; yet this does not seem to hinder 
his speed. One day he may be trying to 
cook in the rain with a scant supply 
of wet wood; on another he may have 
difficulty keeping the wind from scat- 
tering his fire, blowing the heat away 
from his pots or sand in his food, yet he 
works without discouragement. The out- 
fit must be fed on time. 

He has many duties to perform. He is 
stakeholder when bets are made, arbiter 
to settle quarrels, and doctor for both 
man and beast, concocting some sort of 
dosage from his assortment of bottles. He 
acts as father-confessor and listens to 
complaints; he is banker for those who 
have loose change that might slip out 
of their pockets during rough cow work. 
He may do a little laundry work so that 
one of "his boys" might call on a near-by 
"nester gal," or help another mend a 
torn garment. If he keeps the coffee on 
a bed of hot coals so that any hand can 
help himself at all times, his shortcom- 
ings, if any, are overlooked. He has to 
be a good packer in order to stow things 
in his wagon so that they stay tied down ; 
he has to be able to repair his wagon 
to keep it rolling; and he is the first to 
grab a shovel in case of a tragedy. 

Though the boys kid him and cuss 
his crankiness, they certainly will not 
concede this privilege to an outsider. If 
he is clean, they will tolerate the poor 
quality of his bread. 

Almost any cook likes to talk, and 
while the boys eat, he squats against the 
rear wheel of the wagon and entertains 
himself and them by discussing every- 
thing from the weather and women to 
politics and poker. If he is a good cook, 
the boys do not interrupt him. (John M. 
Hendrix, Editorial, Cattleman, XX, No. 
12 [May, 1934], 5-) 

cookie pusher 

A waitress in a restaurant. 

cooking mutton 

Setting a sheep range afire to destroy 
sheep, as was occasionally done in range 
wars between sheep men and cowmen. 


See bean-master, belly cheater, biscuit 
roller, biscuit shooter, cocinero, cookie, 
cook's louse, coosie, dinero, dough-belly, 
dough-boxer, dough-puncher, dough- 
roller, dough-wrangler, flunky, greasy 
belly, grub spoiler, grub worm, gut- 
robber, old woman, pothooks, pot rust- 
ler, Sallie, sheffi, sop an' 'taters, sour- 
dough, swamper. 

cook shack 

The kitchen, especially when a sepa- 
rate building. 

Cook's Implements 

See cook's louse, Dutch oven, flunky, 
gouch hook, lizard scorcher, pothook, 
round pan, squirrel can, swamper, wreck 

cook's louse 

The cook's helper. 

cook stove 

A slang name for the branding iron. 

cool your saddle 

Dismount and rest from riding. 


Said of a horse with long and very 
low pasterns. 


Borrowing from the Spanish, the 
Southwest cow country called the cook 
cocinero, and from this came the com- 
mon nickname coosie. 


In faro, betting a card to lose by plac- 
ing upon one's stake a small copper disk 
provided by the dealer. The word came 
to mean to bet against, to nullify a rival's 
flan by instituting an offosite and op- 
posing action. 

corn freight 

Goods shipped by mule teams; so 


Western Words 

called because corn had to be carried to 
feed the mules. This reduced carrying 
space and thus increased cost, but the 
method was much speedier than bullteam 
freight. Customers requiring speed de- 
manded that goods come by corn freight. 
See grass freight. 

corona (co-ro'nah) 

Spanish, meaning crown. The cowman 
uses it to mean a shaped pad placed under 
the skirt of the saddle. 

corpse and cartridge occasion 

A gun battle. The aftermath of some 
of the early western gun battles, as one 
cowman said, "looked like beef day at 
an Injun agency." 

corral (cor-rahl') 

Spanish, meaning yard or enclosure-, 
commonly pronounced kr-rall' by the 
cowman. As a noun, it means an enclos- 
ure or pen, a circular pen built of stout, 
horizontal wooden rails which are sup- 
ported by posts set firmly in the ground. 
The rails are lashed to the posts with 
green rawhide, which contracts when 
dry, thus making the entire structure as 
strong as iron. The corral is circular so 
that the animals can not dodge into cor- 
ners or injure themselves by crowding 
into them. Used as a verb it means to 
drive stock into a corral. 

corral boss 

The man in charge of the stock and 
corrals on a dude ranch. It is his duty to 
assign horses to dudes. 

corral branding 

Branding calves in a corral may not 
be so picturesque as branding in the open, 
but it is easier on men, cattle, and horses. 
Having no herd to hold, every man can 
take part in the branding. The actual 
work is done in the same manner as 
branding in the open, but before reach- 
ing the pens, the steers and dry cows are 
worked out. When the pens are reached, 
the mother cows are cut back outside, 
where they bawl until the calves are 
turned out to relieve their anxiety and 
receive their sympathy. 

corral dust 

Lies, windies. 


See Arizona trigger, belly-buster, 
blind trap, breaking pen, corral, crowd- 
ing pen, op'ra house, road house, rope 
corral, round-pen, snubbin' post, squeez- 
er, trap corral, water trap, wing fence. 

corrida (cor-ree'dah) 

The Spanish use this word to mean 
exfert, artful. The cattleman uses it to 
mean a cow crowd, an outfit of cow- 
hands. It is from the verb correr, which 
means to run, thus to the cowman, an 
expert at running cattle. 

corriente (cor-re-en'tay) 

To run. From the Spanish, literally 
it means current and is adopted by the 
southwestern cowboy to signify inferior- 
ity, when referring to the quality of 
cattle (Harold W. Bentley, Dictionary 
of Spanish Terms in English [New York, 
Columbia University Press, 1932], 129). 


The covering of a saddle, at first made 
of two pieces of leather stitched together 
through the middle, with a hole cut for 
the fork and a slit for the cantle. It was 
worked and shaped to fit the tree, and, 
after the rigging was in place, was 
slipped down over the saddle and buckled 
or laced in front of the horn. 

cotton-patch loop 

An extra-large loop. 

Cottonwood blossom 

Said of a man hanging from the limb 
of a tree. 

couldn't drive nails in a snow 

Said of an ignorant person. 

couldn't find his saddle seat with 
a forked stick 

Said of one riding in an extremely 
rough country. 

couldn't ride nothin' wilder'n a 

Said of one with no riding ability. 

couldn't teach a settin' hen to 

Said of an ignorant person. 



could outhold a warehouse 

Said of a lucky person, especially a 
winner at gambling. 


A dry creek. Used in the North as a 
synonym for the Southwest's arroyo, it 
is a French word for what an Easterner 
would call a ravine, and means a deep 
cut in the earth's surface, its sloping 
sides covered with brush. 


When a brand is superseded, by pur- 
chase or by discovery that the wrong 
brand has been placed upon an animal 
or that the brand has been put in the 
wrong place, the custom is for the brand- 
er to burn a bar through the original 
brand, put his own brand above or below 
it, and also on that part of the animal 
where it properly belongs, if the correct 
mark is differently situated. Later in the 
cattle industry, counterbranding was 
done by repeating the undesired brand 
and placing the new one upon the ani- 
mal where it belonged ; and the use of the 
bar through the discarded brand was dis- 
continued. (Philip A. Rollins, The Cow- 
boy [New York, Charles Scribner's 
Sons, 1936], 240.) See vent brand. 

county brand 

A brand, used only in Texas, consist- 
ing of a letter or group of letters for 
each Texas county, and unlike other 
brands, always placed upon the animal's 
neck (Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy 
[New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
J 936]) 240). This brand was intended 
to make stealing more difficult, as the 
rustler would now have to see that his 
doctored brand was recorded in the coun- 
ty of the county brand or alter that brand 


See gravel in his gizzard, gritty as fish 
eggs rolled in sand, knows how to die 
standin' up, more guts than you could 
hang on a fence, sand. 


See cut a rusty, dropped his rope on 
her, gallin', ride herd on a woman, rot- 
ten loggin', settin' the bag. 

covered his back with his belly- 
Said when one was forced to sleep in 
the open without blankets. Such a situ- 
ation is also spoken of as, "usin' his back 
for a mattress and his belly for a blan- 

covered his dog 

When the roundup captain has gath- 
ered all the cattle in a given region, he 
is said to have covered his dog. 


Getting the drop. 


See booger, buck fever, cold-footed, 
down in his boots, gunshy, his tail drag- 


The cowboy's generic term for every- 
thing from a sucking calf to a ten-vear- 
old bull. 


This word seems to have originated 
in Revolutionary days when a group of 
Tory guerillas roamed the region be- 
tween the lines in Westchester County, 
New York, and called themselves by this 
title. I have never been able to discover 
why they gave themselves this title since 
they had nothing to do with cows. 

The next men we find calling them- 
selves by this name are a bunch of wild- 
riding, reckless Texans under the leader- 
ship of Ewen Cameron, who spent their 
time chasing longhorns and Mexicans 
soon after Texas became a republic. To 
the Mexicans they became the symbol of 

Then came the real cowboy as we 
know him today — a man who followed 
the cows. A generation ago the East 
knew him as a bloody demon of disaster, 
reckless and rowdy, weighted down with 
weapons, and ever ready to use them. 
Today he is known as the hero of a 
wild west story, as the eternally hard- 
riding movie actor, as the "guitar pick- 
in' " yodeler, or the gayly bedecked ro- 
deo follower. 

The West, who knows him best, knows 
that he has always been "just a plain, 
everyday bow-legged human," carefree 
and courageous, fun-loving and loyal, 

4 1 

Western Words 

uncomplaining and doing- his best to live 
up to a tradition of which he is proud. 
He has been called everything from a 
cow poke to a dude wrangler, but never 
a coward. He is still with us today and 
will always be as long as the West raises 
cows, changing, perhaps, with the times, 
but always witty, friendly, and fearless. 

cowboy change 

In the early West paper money was 
unknown, gold and silver coins being 
the only money used. A silver fifty-cent 
piece was the smallest coin in circulation, 
but it was sometimes necessary to make 
change to the value of dimes and quar- 
ters. For this the standard sizes of cart- 
ridges were used, and they became known 
as cowboy change. 

cowboy of the Pecos 

In the old days the saying, "He's a 
cowboy of the Pecos," had a broad mean- 
ing. The Pecos River drained a wild 
empire. There was no law west of it. 
Its brackish waters were shunned by the 
buffalo and even the coyotes. The coun- 
try was hot, birdless, and infested with 
snakes. The Lincoln County War was 
fought in the territory drained by it, 
and its name became a symbol for tough- 
ness (J. Frank Dobie, Vaquero of the 
Brush Country [Dallas, Southwest Press, 
1929], 292). 

In one sense cowboy of the Pecos 
might mean that the one spoken of was 
exceptionally expert as a cowboy and 
rider; in another, it might mean he was 
a rustler. But in either sense, he was sure 
to be salty and efficient. There is an old 
saying that "When a badman dies, he 
either goes to hell or to the Pecos." An- 
other saying is, "Once a cowboy has wat- 
ered on the salty Pecos, he'll always re- 


See bill-show cowboy, bog rider, boot- 
black cowpuncher, bronc breaker, bronc 
buster, bronc fighter, bronc peeler, bronc 
scratcher, bronc snapper, bronc squeezer, 
bronc stomper, bronc twister, brush bust- 
er, brush hand, brush popper, brush 
roper, brush thumper, brush whacker, 
buckaroo, bucket man, bull-bat, bull 
nurse, buster, caballero, carnival hand, 
chuck-line rider, circle rider, contract 

buster, corrida, cowboy, cowboy of the 
Pecos, cow crowd, cowhand, cow nurse, 
cow poke, cow prod, cowpuncher, cut- 
ter, dally man, drag rider, flanker, flank 
rider, flat-heeled peeler, floating outfit, 
gate horse, grub-line rider, gunnysack- 
er, hand, heel squatter, hillbilly cow- 
boy, hold-up man, horseman, jinete, 
knothead, lead men, leather pounder, 
light rider, limb skinner, line rider, lone 
ranger, mail-order cowboy, makin' a 
hand, mavericker, miller, mill rider, 
nursey, outrider, outside man, peeler, 
pliersman, point rider, pothole rider, 
pumpkin roller, puncher, ranahan, ranch- 
man, range bum, ranny, rawhider, rene- 
gade rider, rep, rough-string rider, sad- 
dle slicker, saddle stiff, saddle tramp, 
saddle warmer, saint, scissor-bill, sheep- 
dipper, skim-milk cowboy, snubber, 
Sooners, stray man, swing rider, tail 
rider, tally hand, tally man, three-up 
screws, trail hand, tullies, twister, va- 
quero, waddy, white-water bucko, wind- 
miller, windmill monkey. 

cow bunny 

Wife or sweetheart of a ranchman. 

cow camp 

Cowboy's headquarters on a roundup, 
a place where a group of cowmen have 
gathered to work cattle. 

cow chips 

Dried cow droppings. A popular fuel 
in the early days on the plains, where 
timber was scarce. It was hard to get a 
fire started with them, but when dry, 
this "prairie coal" made a hot one. How- 
ever, it soon burned out and required 
replenishing. It also made as much bulk 
in ashes as there was in fuel, and the 
ashes had to be carried out as often as 
the fuel was put in the stove. In cold 
weather it was claimed that the constant 
exercise of carrying in fuel and carrying 
out ashes was what kept the fire-tender 
warm, rather than the heat from the fire. 

Many of the old-time cooks in the 
early days had nothing else to cook with, 
and although this fuel gave off a peculiar 
odor when burning, it did not affect the 
food. When cow chips were damp, it 
was hard to make a fire with them, and 
a certain old range cook claimed that in 



one season he "wore out three good hats 
tryin' to get the damned things to burn." 

cow crowd 

An outfit or unit of cowboys. 

cow folks 

Old-timers in the cow business, or 
persons who have been raised to it. 

cow geography 

Scratching in the sand with a stick to 
give directions to another for reaching a 
certain section of the range or other des- 

When two friendly riders meet on the 
trail, they stop and sooner or later swing 
off their horses to loosen the cinches and 
give their bronc's backs some air. Then, 
squatting on their bootheels, they will 
fish around for a cowboy fountain pen 
and paper, which are a broomweed stalk 
and plenty of loose dirt to draw in. Jesse 
Evans used to say, "A cowhand kin jes' 
talk better when he's a-scratchin' in the 
sand like a hen in a dung heap." They 
can always make a picture of some brand, 
and show how one brand could be worked 
into another. Perhaps some nester with 
a pretty daughter has squatted in a cer- 
tain valley, and directions will be drawn 
for getting there. Then with a swipe of 
the hand the cowboy can have a clean 
slate and start another lesson in cow 

cow grease 

A slang name for butter. 


One working with cattle. On the range 
this is the most common term used by 
the cowboy himself when referring to 
one of his profession. Usually the one 
word hand, is used. 


A horse whose hind legs almost touch 
at the hocks, and spread at the pastern 
joints, like those of a cow. 

cow horse 

A good cow horse has to possess 
strength and intelligence, both well 
trained. He has a natural instinct for 
sensing direction and detecting danger, 
both day and night. He is game and 
brave and will drop dead in the per- 

formance of his work if need be. He is 
well adapted to his place, tough, and 
inured to the hardships of his life. His 
lightness of foot and quickness of mo- 
tion fit him for the work better than any 
other type of horse. 

He soon learns his rider, and they work 
together. Of necessity he is sure-footed 
and always has an eye for the trail. He 
must have good feet, good limbs, heart, 
and lungs, so that he might have endur- 
ance; and above all, he must have good 

cow hunt 

The primitive forerunner of the 
roundup ; also called a cow work, work, 
and cow drive. 


One who raises cattle. 

cow nurse 

One whose duty it is to look after sick 
or crippled cattle, which are kept in a 
separate herd. 

cowpen herd 

The cowboy's name for the small herd 
of the "little feller." 

cow poke 

A slang name for the cowboy. 

COW pony- 
Occasionally a Westerner uses this 
term in speaking of his horse, but it is 
used mostly by Easterners and writers 
who have never lived in the West. The 
cowman usually calls him a hoss, and 
cow hoss is the universal term for him, 
not cow fony. 

cow prod 

Another slang name for the cowboy. 


A more recent title of the cowboy, 
derived from the metal-pointed prod- 
pole employed to urge cattle into stock- 
cars. While -punching is thus the accepted 
term for herding livestock, it ordinarily 
is restricted to cattle, the term herding 
being used in connection with horses. A 
cowpuncher might funch or herd cattle, 
but colloquial English makes him herd 
horses and will not let him funch them. 
The term is usually shortened to funcher. 


Western Words 

(Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New 
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 

cow riggin' 

Clothes, or costume, worn by the cow- 
man when working-. As one cowboy said, 
"Y'u'd have to be some persuader to get 
a puncher to shed his cow riggin' for any 
of that gearin' of the shorthorn." 

cow savvy 

Knowledge of cattle and the cattle 

cow skinner 

A frequent name for a severe winter 

cow talk 

Said when two or more cowmen get 
together and talk about cattle. Jack Pot- 
ter once started a letter to me on a cer- 
tain date, but when I finally received it, 
his excuse for the delay was that a friend 
came by his house and "started talkin' 
cow and I followed him off." 

cow town 

In the early days, a town at the end 
of the trail, from which cattle were 
shipped; later applied to towns in the 
cattle country which depended upon the 
cowman and his trade for their existence. 
Many an old-time cowboy had to leave 
one of those trail towns in a hurry, as 
one said, "without waitin' to kiss the 
Mayor good-bye." 

cow whip 

A long whip used more to pop than 
to lash cattle. 

cow wood 

Dried cow chips. 

coyote (co-yo'tay) 

Pronounced by the Westerner ki'yote. 
A prairie wolf much smaller than the 
timber wolf. It is very shy and has never 
been known to attack man unless mad 
or suffering with rabies. The word is 
also used for a man who has the sneaking 
and skulking characteristics of the ani- 

coyote dun 

A dun horse with a dark stripe run- 

ning down the back, sometimes into the 
tail, and often marking the legs. 

coyotin' 'round 


coyotin' 'round the rim 

Touching a subject on the edges, as 
in a conversation or speech. 


Said when a horse pitches backward. 

crawl your hump 

To start a bodily attack upon you. 


One method used in capturing wild 
horses. The act consists of shooting with 
a rifle so that the bullet grazes only the 
cords in the top of the animal's neck 
just in front of the withers, about an 
inch or so deep, close to the spinal col- 
umn. This causes a wound which tem- 
porarily paralyzes a nerve center con- 
nected with the spinal cord and the brain 
and knocks the horse down. He is thus 
stunned long enough for the hunter to 
tie him down before he recovers. Suc- 
cess with this method calls for expert 
marksmanship and an abundance of luck. 
From talks with old horse hunters and 
through other records, I find that this 
method was very rarely successful, and 
that for every horse captured in this way, 
fifty were killed. 


A notch carved upon a gun to com- 
memorate the killing of a victim. Out- 
laws and gunmen of the wild bunch who 
killed for the sake of brag followed 
this custom, but no man of principle 
wanted to remember the men he had 


See jawbone, on tick. 


A type of albino horse with cream- 
colored coat, pink skin, and blue, 
"china," eyes. 


A horse that has the habit of gnawing 
on wood such as hitch racks or stall par- 




A little roller inserted in the bit to 
make a chirping noise, giving the horse 
something with which to amuse himself 
with his tongue and creating a music 
the cowboy loves to hear. 


By this word the cowboy means co<w, 
and the word cow stands for cattle in 
general. If the feminine gender is spoken 
of, it is designated as "she stuff," or if 
an individual is pointed out, the sex is 
designated as "that two-year-old heifer" 
or "that line-backed steer." 


An unintelligent horse. 


An earmark made by cutting one-half 
of the ear off smoothly straight from the 
upper side. 


A term applied to any animal with 
ears shortened by freezing or by sunburn. 


A bad outlaw horse with his ears 
cropped for identification as such. 


A packsaddle, named this from its 
similarity to the woodcutter's cross-buck 
sawhorse. It consists of two short, par- 
allel planks connected at each end by a 
short wooden cross. Of necessity it has 
two cinches and is used to carry equip- 
ment or freight. 

cross canyon 

A canyon bisecting another canyon. 

cross draw 

Made with a gun carried at the hip 
but hanging butt forward, on the oppo- 
site side from the hand making the draw. 

cross hobble 

To hobble one front foot to the hind 
one on the opposite side. This method 
is dangerous to a nervous horse because 
it throws him into a panic. If this hap- 
pens, he will fight the hobbles, throw 
himself, and be injured. 


The ford or crossing of a river. 

crow bait 

Anything poor, but usually refers to 
a horse. 

crowding pen 

A small corral used for branding 
grown cattle. 

crow hop 

When a horse jumps about with 
arched back and stiffened knees at a pre- 
tense of bucking. 

crown piece 

The top part of the bridle, a strap 
passing over the top of the horse's head. 

crumb castle 

A slang name for the chuck wagon. 

crumb incubator 

Slang name for the cowboy's bed. 

crying room 

Headquarters of a rodeo. The office 
where alibis are offered and disappoint- 
ments aired. 

cuidado (coo-e-dah'do) 

A Spanish shout of warning sometimes 
used in place of the English look out or 
take care. 

cuitan (coo-e-tan') 

An Indian pony. The first coastal In- 
dian tribe to see a horse called him an 
e-cu-i-ton, and the later trade jargon 
or Chinook named him qui-tan, and from 
this the present word is derived. 


A scrubby animal. 


Mean, worthless; from the Indian. 

cufia (coo'nyah) 

Spanish, meaning cradle. This is a 
green hide stretched to the running gear 
of the wagon. The head and forelegs 
are lashed toward the front of the wagon, 
the sides to the sides of the bed, and the 
hind legs to the rear axle. It is tied low- 
er behind to make it easier of access, and 
while drying, the whole is filled with 
rock or something heavy to make it bag 
down, thus increasing its carrying ca- 
pacity. It is used to carry wood or other 


Western Words 

fuel and is called the coonie, fossum 
belly, or bitch. 

curb bit 

One with an upward curve, or port, 
in the center of the mouthpiece. One of 
the most widely used bits in the cattle 

curled him up 

Denoting that the one spoken of was 

curled his tail 

A slang expression meaning to get 
either man or animal on the run. 

Curly-Bill spin 

A gun spin, more commonly known 
as road agent's sfin. In some localities 
it takes this name because Curly Bill Gra- 
ham used it to kill Marshal Fred White 
when the latter attempted to arrest him 
in Tombstone, Arizona. See road agent's 

curly wolf 

A tough character. 

curry him out 

To rake a horse across his sides with 

curry the kinks out 

To break a horse, to take the mean- 
ness out. 


See airing the lungs, private cuss 


Made-to-order boots. 


A group of cattle separated from the 
main herd for any definite purpose, as 
for shipping or for branding. 

cut a big gut 

To make one's self ridiculous. 

cut a rusty 

To do one's best, to do something 
clever, to court a girl. 

cut a shine 

To perform an antic. 


One of cattle rejected on roundup for 
any reason, a cull. 


A precipitous hillside or jump-off. 
Cut-banks constituted one of the dangers 
in the path of herders trailing longhorns 
up from Texas. They are caused by the 
wind's whipping around some point and 
eroding the soil until precipitous banks, 
sometimes yards high, have been formed. 
There is no way of detecting them in 
the dark, and more than once the mangled 
bodies of a man and a horse have been 
found at the bottom of one after a stam- 

cut 'er loose 

A bronc rider's signal to release his 
mount, given when he is ready to start 
his ride. 

cut for sign 

To examine the ground for tracks or 
droppings, the two signs. 

cut his picket-pin and drifted 

Said of one who left for parts un- 
known of his own free will and not under 

cut his suspenders 

Said of one who leaves one place for 
another, to leave the country. 

cut his wolf loose 

Said of a man drinking, shooting, or 
on any other kind of a "tear." One of 
the favorite stunts of the old-time cow- 
boy was riding his horse into a saloon. 

A story used to be told in New Mexi- 
co about the time three or four young 
punchers rode their horses into a saloon 
when one of those overdressed eastern 
drummers happened to be at the bar par- 
taking of his after-dinner refreshment. 
Being considerably jostled by one of the 
horses, he complained bitterly to the bar- 

This bar-dog, an old stove-up former 
cowpuncher, glared at him a minute and 
came back in characteristic style with, 

"What the hell y'u doin' in here afoot 
anyhow ? " 

Perhaps he didn't appreciate all that 
livestock in the saloon, but he appreci- 


ated even less complaints coming from 
an outsider. 

cut horse 

Short for cutting horse. 

cut in 

To drive stragglers or wandering cat- 
tle back into the herd from which they 
had strayed. 

cut of cows with calves 

This cut is made on roundup by seg- 
regating all cows with calves in a sepa- 
rate cut preparatory to branding. 

cut straw and molasses 

Poor food. 


A slang name for the pistol, one en- 
gaged in cutting out cattle, a good cut- 
ting horse; also the man who cuts ear- 
marks during branding. 

cutter herds 

Bunches of cattle held about a hun- 
dred miles apart along the trail by cow- 
boys hired, as in roundup season, to cut 
trail herds for several different ranch- 

cut the bed 

To share one's bed with another. 

cut the deck deeper 

A request to explain more fully or 
more clearly. 

cut the trail 

The act of halting a herd of cattle for 
an inspection. The trail-cutter causes the 
herd to be driven past him in a thin line 
so that he might identify any animal 
which does not properly belong to this 
particular herd. 

cutting gate 

A wide, swinging gate so arranged 
that it can be operated with a long ex- 


tension by a man sitting on top of the 
fence. It is used like the switch of a 
railroad track to shunt cattle into one of 
several pens which it serves. 

cutting horse 

A horse highly trained for cutting out 
cattle. A good cutting horse is the top- 
ranking and most talked-of horse in 
cattle work. This coveted title comes 
only after years of training and experi- 
ence, and the rider who can boast of such 
a horse is the envy of his comrades and 
the pride of the entire outfit. 

When a good cutting horse begins his 
work, he is made to understand which 
animal is to be cut. He works quietly 
until the animal is urged to the edge of 
the herd. Naturally the cow tries to re- 
main with her companions, and here is 
where the cutting horse proves his worth. 
A good cutter is both mentally and 
physically alert, possesses speed and ac- 
tion, and knows how to use them. He 
must spin and turn faster than the cow; 
and it takes an expert rider to stay on, 
for he must anticipate the horse's turn- 
ings to keep from getting spilled. All 
the work must be done in such a manner 
as to excite the herd as little as possible. 

While the horse needs no assistance 
from his rider, an unskilled rider will 
certainly hinder the work of the horse. 
The work of a good cutter under an 
equally good rider is a joy to watch. 

cutting out 

The act of riding into a herd of cattle, 
selecting the animal to be cut, and keep- 
ing it on the move away from the herd 
and toward the cut being formed. It is 
hard and exciting work, but it gives both 
horse and rider the opportunity to prove 
their worth. 

cutting the herd 

Inspecting a trail herd for cattle which 
do not properly belong in it. 


Western Words 


"You never know the luck of a lousy calf" 


A slang word used in speaking of rop- 
ing, as "dabbed his rope on." 

dabble in gore 

Said of one becoming entangled in 
shooting scrapes. 


To take a half-hitch around the saddle 
horn with a rope after a catch is made, 
the loose end being held in the roper's 
hand so that he can let it slip in case 
of an emergency, or take it up shorter. 
Also called by the slang names of doled, 
vuelted, dale vuelted, and dolly welter, 
each derived from the Spanish phrase 
dar la vuelta (dar-lay-voo-el'tah), 
which means to take a turn or twist with 
a rofe. 

The American cowboy uses the near- 
est English sound, dolly welter, and this 
brings to mind a story told by S. Omar 
Barker of a tenderfoot roper who made 
a lucky catch and was immediately ad- 
vised from all sides to "take your dolly 
welter," but he retorted that he "didn't 
even know the gal." Later the expression 
was shortened to dally, which is now the 
most common term. 

dally man 

One who uses a dally in roping. He 
makes his catch with a free rope and 
takes his turns around the saddle horn. 
He needs a longer rope than the tie titan, 
one who ties his rope to the saddle horn, 
because he can't throw it all out, but has 
to have some left to make his turns. 

dally your tongue 

A command to stop talking. 


See baile, heifer brand, hoe-dig, shak- 
in' a hoof, shindig, stomp. 


Little, inch-long, pear-shaped pend- 
ants loosely hanging from the end of the 

axle of the spur rowel (Philip A. Rollins, 
The Cowboy [New York, Charles Scrib- 
ner's Sons, 1936], 116), whose sole func- 
tion is to make music that the cowboy 
loves to hear; also called jinglebobs. 

Daniel Boones 

A contemptuous title given the long- 
haired pseudo scouts and would-be bad- 


What the cowboy sometimes derisively 
calls another's feet. Most cowboys take 
great pride in the smallness of their feet. 
If you want to "get a rise" out of one, 
just tell him that his feet "look like load- 
ing chutes" or accuse him of carrying 
most of his weight "on the spur end." 


Moody, downcast. One of the West's 
philosophies is, "The man who wears his 
chin on his instep never sees the hori- 

day herd 

To stand guard over cattle in the day- 
time while they graze. 


Riding so that daylight can be seen 
between the rider's seat and the saddle. 


A small, runty calf. 


A drinking or gambling establishment 
of bad repute, an obstruction, especially 
of fallen timber. 


The dividing line between a neutral 
and hostile or prohibited area. Used 
often in keeping sheep off certain cow 
ranges. In early days the Nueces River 
in Texas was called the Sheriff's Dead- 
line because the numerous outlaws would 
not let a sheriff cross west of it. 




Made by twisting a half-dozen strands 
of barbed wire into a cable which is 
passed around the top of the post of a 
fence and then around a large rock sunk 
deeply into the ground. 

dead man's hand 

Throughout the West the combination 
of aces and eights is known as the dead, 
man's hand. This superstition was hand- 
ed down from the time Jack McCall 
killed Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, 
South Dakota, while he sat in a poker 
game holding this hand. 

dead mouthed 

Said of a horse's mouth which has 
become insensitive to the bit. 


To get the drop on an enemy, to gain 
advantage over someone, control over, 
as to have the deadwood on one. 

deal from the bottom 

To cheat. 

dealing brace 

Using crooked faro boxes or manipu- 
lating cards so that the dealer is sure to 
win. These sure-shot games are practiced 
by the lowest class of gamblers. 


See big jump, buck out, cash in, 
curled him up, die-up, empty saddle, 
fried gent, gone over the range, got a 
halo gratis, grass is wavin' over him, 
hung up his saddle, kicked into a fu- 
neral procession, land in a shallow grave, 
last roundup, lay 'em down, long trail, 
misty beyond, no breakfast forever, pass 
in his chips, sacked his saddle, sawdust 
in his beard, shakin' hands with St. 
Peter, stiff, take the big jump. 


See cloudin' the trail, throw dust. 

decorate a cottonwood 

Said of a hanging. 

decoy brand 

A small brand placed on an animal's 
belly, used by some ranchers to trap 
rustlers. Choice animals would be other- 
wise unbranded to tempt the thief, but 

the ruse was rarely successful since the 
rustler was suspicious and as smart as 
the rancher. 

decoy herd 

A small herd of cattle used in snaring 
wilder animals. It is also used in starting 
a cut of cattle. 


See holler calf rope, put a spoke In 
his wheel, took the slack out of his rope. 


To remove horns from cattle (as 
verb) j a hard drinker, especially one in- 
clined to fight when drunk (as noun). 

democrat pasture 

The closing of a gap across a rimrock 
or canyon to form a pasture. 

democrat wagon 

A light spring wagon used on a great 
many ranches. 


A small, short-barreled pistol with a 
large bore, capable of delivering a heavy 
blow at short range. This weapon was 
popular as a hide-out weapon from the 
early 1870's to the close of the century, 
especially among gamblers and bunco 
men. See hide-out gun. 

desert canary 

The West's name for a burro. 

desert rat 

A veteran prospector of the desert 
country, usually without a mine or any 
other property. 


See hell in his neck. 


The small, horny projections just 
above the back side of the hoof on cloven- 
footed animals. 


A slang name for a six-shooter. 


A mark of ownership made on the un- 
derside of the neck or brisket of an ani- 
mal by pinching up a quantity of skin 
and cutting it loose, but not entirely off. 


Western Words 

When the wound is healed, it leaves a 
hanging flap of skin. Some marks are 
slashed up and called dewlafs up, others 
are slashed down and called deivlafs 

dew wrangler 

One who herds horses in the morning. 

diamond hitch 

A method of roping a pack on a pack 
animal. Wherever pack animals are used 
to carry loads, the diamond hitch is in 
common use. It produces upon the top 
of the pack, when completed, the figure 
of a diamond. An ordinary knot is tied, 
but a diamond hitch is always spoken of 
as "throwed," because a rope of forty or 
fifty feet is thrown back and forth across 
the animal as the hitch is made. 

diarrhea of the jawbone 

Said of one talking too much, running 
off at the mouth. 


A slang name for the bunkhouse. 

didn't have a tail-feather left 

Said of one cleaned at a gambling 
table or otherwise completely broke. 

didn't keep his twine on the tree 

A phrase meaning that the one spoken 
of was a rustler and did not keep his rope 
on the saddle horn where it belonged. 

die in a horse's nightcap 

To be hanged. 


The wholesale death of cattle during 
blizzards and droughts over a wide range 
of territory. These die-ups are dreaded 
by all cattlemen, but welcomed by skin- 
ners who own no cattle. Ambitious skin- 
ners, not satisfied with the natural death 
of cattle, began, during the now-famous 
die-up in Texas, killing them for their 
hides, and this led to "skinning wars" 
(J. Frank Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush 
Country [Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 


A slang name for spurs. 

diggin' for his blue lightnin' 

The act of drawing a gun. 


See gophering. 

dig out the bedroll and drift 

A command which informs one that 
he has been fired. 

dig up the tomahawk 

To declare war, to start trouble. When 
a cowboy "pulls his hat to a fightin' 
angle," it is a warning of things to come. 

dinero (di-nay'ro) 

Spanish, meaning coin or money. Used 
in this sense by the cowman, but also 
as a name for the cook. 

dinner plate 

A humorous name for the old broad- 
horned Spanish saddle, which, in the 
cowboy's language, had a horn "big 
'nough to play a game of seven-up on." 


Strong antiseptic to kill ticks, lice, 
or scab on cattle or sheep, the cowboy's 
name for pudding sauce. 

dirtied his shirt 

Said of a rider thrown from a horse. 


See clipped his horns, cold deck, ham- 
string, his leg tied up, horns sawed off, 
put a spoke in his wheel, shorten his 
stake rope, took the slack out of his rope. 


See lookin' for a dog to kick. 


Seat of the saddle, and according to 
its depth it is spoken of as being "shallow 
dished" or "deep dished." 


See two whoops and a holler. 

district attorney 

Another name for the son-of-a-bitch 
stew. When the law began its westward 
march and started to question and clamp 
down on the cowboy government of the 
happy, carefree days, the blame for this 
cramping of liberties was placed upon 
lawyers. This caused the riders of the 
range to feel somewhat resentful toward 
the law, and soon they began calling 



this dish district attorney. The implica- 
tion is obvious. See son-of-a-bitch stew. 

ditch rider 

An irrigation patrolman who turns 
water into laterals and watches for breaks 
in ditch banks. 


A new tool, or contrivance, or prac- 
tically anything unfamiliar to the cow- 
boy is called a ditty. 


Another slang name for the bunk- 
house; also a low saloon. I think it was 
Charlie Russell who said of such a sa- 
loon that it "would make all the other 
dives in the West look like a ladies' 
finishin' school," and I heard another 
cowman speak of one as a place "where 
a rattlesnake would be ashamed to meet 
his mother." 

'dobe wall 

A wall made of adobe, or sun-dried 
brick (as noun) ; to stand one against 
an adobe wall and execute by shooting 
(as verb). Llano Pierce once spoke of a 
friend in Mexico being " 'dobe walled 
into Kingdom Come." 


To cut the knee tendon of a wild 
longhorn so that he can walk but can 
not run. 


See pill roller, saddlebag doctor, saw- 


The cowboy's name for the useless 
little trinkets he carries in his war-bag. 

dog fall 

Throwing an animal with its feet 
under it. 

dog fight 

The name cowboys give to a fist fight. 
The early cowman felt that such com- 
bats were beneath his dignity. As one 
said, "If the Lord had intended me to 
fight like a dog, He'd a-give me longer 
teeth and claws." 


Another slang name for the bunk- 

dog-house stirrups 

A slang name for the old, wide, wood- 
en stirrups of the early range. It was 
claimed that they had enough lumber in 
them to build a dog-house. 


One who bulldogs. 


A scrubby calf that has not wintered 
well and is anaemic from the scant food 
of the cold months ; also spelled dogy or 
dobie. It is, in the language of the cow- 
boy, "a calf that has lost its mammy and 
whose daddy has run off with another 
cow." Although the word is used com- 
monly in the West and is understood by 
all cattlemen, there has, in recent years, 
been some controversy over its origin. 
One version is that, during trail days, 
when it was discovered that the northern 
range was good cow country, especially 
for fattening beef, there arose a demand 
for young animals. It became the usage 
to call these dogies, especially yearling 
steers, to distinguish them from steers that 
were fat enough for market. Another ver- 
sion is that the term originated in the 
eighties after a very severe winter had 
killed off a great many mother cows and 
left a number of orphan calves. Grass and 
water were too heavy a ration for these 
little orphans, and their bellies very much 
resembled a batch of sourdough carried 
in a sack. Having no mother whose brand 
would establish ownership, and carrying 
no brand themselves by which they might 
be identified, these orphans were put into 
the maverick class. The first to claim them 
was recognized as the owner, no matter 
where they were found. One day on 
roundup a certain cowman who was try- 
ing to build up a herd, drove a bunch 
in from along the river. 

"Boys, there's five of them dough-guts 
in that drive and I claim ever' damn 
one of 'em ! " he yelled excitedly. 

During that roundup all orphans be- 
came known as dough-guts, and later 
the term was shortened to dogie and has 
been used ever since throughout cattle- 


Western Words 

land to refer to a pot-gutted orphan calf. 
This term has recently become popular 
through western songs, yet too great a 
percentage of singers call it doggie, as if 
they were singing of a pup. The word is 
sometimes used by the cowboy to mean 
laced shoes. 


A small rancher or nester who gets 
his cattle from outside farm districts. 


The wooden pegs used in making hair 

don't know sic 'em 

Ignorant. I have heard many unique 
references to ignorance such as, "He's 
got no more sense than a little nigger 
with a big navel," "He don't know 
'nough to pack guts to a bear," "He 
don't know dung from wild- honey," 
and many others. Ted Logan referred to 
a man with, "His head's so holler he's 
got to talk with his hands to git away 
from the echo." 

don't travel like a colt no more 

Said of one getting old and stove up. 

door knob 

A title sometimes given a small boy. 
One who, in cowboy lingo, still "had 
the growin' itch." 

dotting irons 

Primitive forerunners of the stamp 
branding irons. Unlike the stamp iron, 
which is applied with one application, 
the dotting irons are made in three sepa- 
rate parts, one a bar, one a small half- 
circle, and the other a large half-circle, 
so that by using various combinations a 
number of different brands can be made 
(J. Evetts Haley, Charles Goodnight, 
Cowman and Plainsman [Boston, Hough- 
ton Mifflin Company, 1936], 18). 

double barrelled 

A two-cinched saddle; also called 
double fire and double rigged. 

double hobble 

A short strap with leather cuffs at each 
end, fitted so that the cuffs can be buckled 
about the two forelegs to keep a horse 
from straying. 

double over-bit 

An earmark made by cutting two tri- 
angular pieces in the upper part of the 
animal's ear. 

double roll 

Accomplished by spinning two guns 
forward, one on each trigger finger, 
cocking and releasing the hammer as it 
comes under the web or lower part of 
the thumb. It is more of a stunt than a 


A sudden shift in the gait of a pitching 

double under-bit 

Same as double over-bit except that 
the cuts are made on the lower side of 
the ear. 


Said of cattle held in the North for 
two winters to mature them into prime 


A slang name for the cook. 


Another slang name for the cook. 


A slang name for biscuits. 


Still another name for the cook. 


Yet another name for the cook. 

dough- wrangler 

Another slang name for the cook. 




A cow, which, after a drought or a 
hard winter, is too weak from under- 
nourishment to stand. Every time she at- 
temps to move faster than a walk she 
falls and has to be tailed up again. 

John Hendrix tells this story concern- 
ing downers: 

"There was an old cowman down in 
the Brady country a good many years 
ago, who got all his 'downers' up one 



frosty morning, and, while they were 
steadying down, rode over the hill to 
skin one he felt pretty sure had died 
during the night. Just after he rode 
over the hill he heard gun shots back in 
the direction of the cattle he had just 
left. Loping back, he saw three friends 
from town hunting blue quail around his 
stack yards. 

' "For God's sake don't shoot around 
here, fellers,' he cried, riding up to them. 

" 'Why, Lige, you told us last fall we 
were welcome to hunt out here whenever 
we wanted to. Besides, we're not going 
to shoot any of your cattle.' 

" 'I know you're not, fellers,' replied 
the cowman. 'That's not the idea, but 
when you shot awhile ago fifty-five head 
of my old 'Nellies' tried to run and fell 
down, and I'm too danged weak in the 
back to tail 'em many more times to- 
day.'" (John M. Hendrix, "Feedin'," 
West Texas Today [March, 1937], 7.) 

down in his boots 

Said when one becomes frightened, a 
coward, a person, in cowboy parlance, 
"as yeller as mustard without the bite." 

down in the Skillet 

A reference to the Panhandle country 
of Texas. 

down steer 

Reference to an animal off its feet in 
a loaded stockcar. 

down to his last chip 

Said of one financially broke. 

down to the blanket 

Said of one almost "cleaned out." 


The rear of a column of cattle on the 
trail. It holds the footsore, the weak, the 
young calves, the weary, and the lazy; 
also called tail. The cattle themselves 
are called drags, and this term is also 
sometimes applied to lazy humans. The 
average cowhand has little use for a 
lazy person, and his descriptions of one 
are rather high-flavored. I heard Hunk 
Bouden speak of' one with, "The hardest 
work he ever done was take a long squint 
at the sun and a quick squat in the shade." 
Wishbone Wilson spoke of a man being 
so lazy "he had to lean ag'in' a buildin' 

to spit," and Curly Hicks said of another 
that he "didn't do nothin' but set 'round 
all day on his one-spot." 

drag brand 

One with a bottom projection which 
angles downward to some degree. 

draggin' her rope 

Said of a woman who is trying to catch 
a husband. Jack Davis used to say such 
a woman "might have a short rope, but 
she shore throwed a wide loop." 

draggin' his navel in the sand 

Leaving in a hurry. Bill Keith, in de- 
scribing to me a friend running on foot, 
said, "He was hobbled with a pair o' 
hairy chaps, but he couldn't have made 
better time if he'd been stripped to the 

drag it 

To leave. Usually used with reference 
to going under compulsion. 

drag rider 

One whose duty it is to follow the 
drags. This is the most disagreeable job 
of cattle driving because one has to ride 
in the dust kicked up by the entire herd, 
and contend with the weak and lazy 
critters until his patience is sorely tried. 
While the other riders may be singing 
in the pure air up ahead, there is no 
music in the soul of the drag rider, and 
he is using his vocal powers to cuss be- 
neath the neckerchief he keeps tied over 
his nose and mouth. He is also often called 
the tail rider. 


A shallow drain for rainfall ; also the 
withdrawal of a gun, as in the phrase 
"quick on the draw." 

Drawing a gun 

See border draw, border shift, case of 
slow, covering, cross draw, Curly-Bill 
spin, diggin' for his blue lightnin', 
double roll, draw, fill your hand, hip 
draw, leather slapping, reach, road 
agent's spin, shoulder draw, single roll, 
skins his gun, throw down. 

dream book 

An occasional name for a book of ciga- 
rette papers. 


Western Words 

dream sack 

A sleeping bag. 


See advertisin' a leather shop, full war 
paint, fumadiddle, low-necked clothes, 
Some deck is shy a joker., spraddled 
out, spread the mustard, Sunday-go-to- 
meetin' clothes, swallow-forkin'. 

dressed in a hemp four-in-hand 

Said of one being hanged. 


The marching of cattle in large num- 
bers away from a particular locality, 
either to avoid the local conditions or 
to seek better conditions elsewhere. The 
term is more commonly used when cattle 
wander aimlessly before a winter storm, 
though a drift might occur in summer 
as the consequence of a stampede or the 
result of a lack of water or grass because 
of a drought. Drifts usually happen only 
with cattle, for horses have enough sense 
to avoid them, and to find shelter for 
themselves. (Philip A. Rollins, The Cow- 
boy [New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
1936], 209.) 

drift fence 

A fence built by ranchmen to keep 
cattle from drifting too far away from 
their home range. These fences ran east 
and west for indefinite distances to turn 
the drift when cattle drifted south by 
the thousands with the blizzards coming 
from the north. 

The drift fence on the open range was 
unlawful because the land was govern- 
ment land and public range, but the cow- 
man felt that such a fence was a matter 
of necessity. Yet in severe winters it 
often proved to be a death trap for cattle. 


See alkalied, belly up, bending an el- 
bow, booze blind, cut his wolf loose, 
dehorn, educated thirst, freightin' his dude chaps 
crop, gypped, hear the owl hoot, high 
lonesome, h'ist one, kept the double doors 
swingin', lay the dust, lookin' down the 
neck of a bottle, paintin' his nose, paint 
the tonsils, ridin' out of town with 
nothin' but a head, roostered, rust the 
boiler, somebody stole his rudder, stay 
out with the dry cattle, talkin' load, 

usin' his rope arm to h'ist a glass, walkin' 
whiskey vat, wearin' calluses on his 


The moving of cattle on foot from one 
location to another (as noun) ; the act 
of moving cattle (as verb). 


See haze. 


Said of a calf when a rustler cut the 
muscles which supported its eyelids so 
that it could not see to follow its mother. 


An animal with drooping horns. 

dropped his rope on her 

Said when a man married. 

drop stirrup 

A heavy, leather strap below the stir- 
rup to enable the rider to mount more 
easily. Used by women riders. 

dry camp 

To camp without water. 

dry drive 

To drive without water for the cattle. 

dry gulch 

To kill, to ambush, to assassinate. 


A farmer of irrigated land. 

dry stock 

Denotes, regardless of age or sex, such 
bovines as are giving no milk. 

dry storm 

A sandstorm. 


A person who comes west for enjoy- 
ment, thrills, and rest. 

Fancy chaps, as are worn by dudes 
and actors, in which a real cowboy 
would not be seen. 

dude ranch 

A ranch, which, as in recent years, has 
been converted into a place of recreation 
for Easterners for a profit. 




See dude, dudette, dudine, dudolo, 
dude ranch, dude wrangler, S. A. cow- 
boy, swivel dude. 

dudette or dudine 

A female dude described by the cow- 
boy as a young lady who comes west to 
marry a cowboy. 

dude wrangler 

A man who serves as a guide to the 
guests at a dude ranch, usually some 
former cowboy out of a riding job. 


A rare type of Westerner who lives 
by the art of sponging off dudes and 


A codger, a useless fellow. 


A rectangular pit dug into the ground, 
usually on a hillside, covered with a 
framework of timber and turf elevated 
three or four feet above the ground. 
Dugouts were very common in the early 
West as first and temporary residences. 
As the old saying goes, "It's a dwelling 
whose front yard took in considerable 


A place on the steep bank of a stream 
which has been graded down to let cattle 
and wagons enter or leave a stream. 


A nickname for a bull. 

dulce (dool'thay) 

Spanish for sweet, honeyed. In the 
Southwest, it is common to hear a young 
man refer to his sweetheart, "girl," or 
"lady friend" as his dulce. 


Another slang name for the bunkhouse. 


An expression for being thrown from 
a horse. 


To throw dust into the eyes of a 
charging steer or cow, to go; also short 
for gold dust, meaning money. 


Thrown from a horse. 

dutch oven 

A very thick, three-footed skillet with 
a heavy lid. It is used for cooking much 
of the cowboy's food, but especially bis- 
cuit. It is placed over hot coals with 
more coals put on the lid, thus browning 
the food on both sides. 

dying with throat trouble 

Said of a hanging. It is hard to get a 
range man to talk of a hanging, nor will 
he admit having had anything to do 
with one. It is a stern and solemn matter 
and not subject to jests nor popular men- 


A common name for cheap whiskey. 


"Man's the only animal that can be skinned moreen once" 


A slang name for a tapadero, leather 
stirrup covering, taking this name from 
its shape. 

ear down 

The act of distracting a horse's at- 
tention by holding his head down by 
the ears while the rider mounts. Some- 

times the man doing the earing will catch 
the tip of the ear that is above his hand 
with his teeth. This will cause the horse 
to stand very still to avoid pain. 


A headstall made in two pieces, with 
a loop for the right ear, one buckle on 
the left cheek, and no nose-band, throat- 


Western Words 

latch, or brow-band. The bit ties in with 
buckskin strings. This type of headstall 
is used only on broken horses. 

early bouten 

An occasional name for a greenhorn. 


Certain ownership cuts made in the 
ears of cattle (as noun) ; the act of mak- 
ing these cuts (as verb). 


See buds, crop, crop-eared, dewlap, 
double over-bit, double under-bit, ear- 
mark, full ear, grub, jingle-bob, jug 
handle, mark, marker, over-bit, over- 
hack, over-half-crop, over-round, over- 
slope, over-split, seven over-bit, seven 
under-bit, sharp, slick-ear, split, steeple- 
fork, swallow-fork, swallow-tail, under- 
bit, under-hack, under-half-crop, under- 
round, under-slope, under-split, wattle. 

easy on the trigger 

Excitable, quick to anger. 

eatin' drag dust 

Said of one riding in the drag dust 
of a trail herd ; also used in the sense of 
being humiliated. 


See entries under chuck. 

eatin' gravel 

Being thrown from a horse. Sometimes 
said to be "eatin' gravel without stoop- 

educated thirst 

Said of a man who drinks champagne 
and fancy mixed drinks. Very few of the 
early western saloons carried stocks of 
fancy liquors. In his drinking the cow- 
man did not belong to the "garden va- 
riety." When he got drunk, he wanted 
everybody to know it, and all usually 
did if they were in the same town. The 
liquor served in the average frontier bar 
would, in the words of one cowman, 
"draw a blood-blister on a rawhide 
boot" ; and Zeb Fisher declared that the 
bartender of a certain saloon "served a 
free snake with ever' drink." 

elbow room 

The old-time, open-range cowman 

felt that he was being crowded if a 
neighbor settled within fifty miles of him, 
and he complained of not having "elbow 

empty saddle 

A horse showing up at the ranch car- 
rying an empty saddle has a great sig- 
nificance in the cattle country. There is 
much anxiety concerning the rider be- 
cause it signifies he is either dead, hurt, 
or left afoot, perhaps far from home, 
which in itself might also mean tragedy. 
As Will James said, "To range folks, 
such a sight [a horse coming home with 
an empty saddle] hints to a serious hap- 
pening." (Will James, All in a Day's 
Riding [New York, Charles Scribner's 
Sons, 1933], 216.) 

entitled to a warm corner 

Said of one who has faithfully per- 
formed his duties and has grown old in 


The cowboy's name for distemper, a 
catarrhal disease common among horses. 


A slang name for a pistol. It is a com- 
mon saying of the West that "a Colt 
makes all men equal." 


See leg bail, Mexican standoff. 


This term applies to a horse with a 
long, thin neck resembling that of a ewe. 


Hanged. Almost any cowman is, in 
the words of one, "too proud of his 
Adam's apple to want to be exalted." 


A bump in the road. 


See hair off the dog, wrinkles on his 


See chew it finer, cut the deck deeper, 
ride over that trail again. 


A meddler. 




"The man that always straddles the fence usually has a sore crotch" 


See busted cinch, busted flush, caught 
in his own loop, hard wintered, His 
saddle is slippin'., Like a steer, I can try. 

fair ground 

To rope an animal, throw the rope 
over its back while still running, then 
throw the animal violently to the ground, 
where it usually lies long enough to be 

fall back 

When a bucking horse attempts to 
stand erect on its hind feet, looses its 
balance, and falls backward; also called 
a.' rear back. 

fallen hide 

The hide of a dead cow or steer whose 
death is from natural causes. 

fall roundup 

Synonymous with beef roundup, oc- 
curring in the fall of the year. 

falls out of bed 

Said of a horse which pulls back on 
the halter rope. 

fancy fluff-duffs 

Anything fancy from food to finery. 
At some of the range dances the ranch 
women would make doughnuts, bake 
pies, and other fluff-duffs "jes' to let the 
boys know they wasn't eatin' at the 


This word in used in two senses in 
the West. To fan with the hat means 
waving it or slapping it against a horse's 
sides while riding a bucker. Using the 
hat in this manner serves as a balance 
such as the pole of a tightrope walker. 
When a rider loses his hat, he is usually 
not long in following it to the ground. 

To fan with a gun, the person fanning 
grips it in one hand and with rapid 
passes with his other hand knocks back 

and releases the hammer. Fanning is 
done mostly in western fiction, although 
there are men who can use this method 
of shooting. Ordinarily a man might fan 
for practice and pastime, but he seldom 
resorts to it when his life is at stake. The 
trick is interesting in theory but is of 
doubtful practical value. When a large- 
caliber gun is shot, the recoil after each 
shot causes it to buck up into the air. 
Though it is possible to work an unload- 
ed gun very rapidly in this way, in ac- 
tual shooting the gun will not stay still 
to be slapped, at least not long enough 
for accuracy. 

f annin' on her fat 

Slapping a horse's side with a hat. 


A wild horse, a horse with a long 
bushy tail. 


See churn-twister, dogieman, dry- 
lander, fodder forker, fool hoe-man, 
granger, hay shoveler, hay slayer, home- 
sucker, juniper, kaffir-corner, lint-back, 
mover, nester, nesting, plow chaser, sod- 
buster, soddy, squat, squatter, sunpecked 
jay, two-buckle boy. 

father the herd 

To get a herd bedded down for the 


Light-headed, with no brains. 


See post hay, stack, stack yard, staked 
to a fill, standin' feed. 


A morral, a slang name for the mess- 


Cattle which are shipped or driven to 
the corn belt for fattening before mar- 
keting; also men who feed these cattle. 


Western Words 

feeding off his range 

Said of a meddler. According to the 
western code no one questions a stranger. 
If he rides for the aimless pleasure of 
going places and seeing things, that is 
his own business. If he chooses to ex- 
plain his reason for traveling, the cow- 
man will listen, but if his reason is one 
which he dares not tell, that still is his 

feed lot 

A small enclosure for feeding cattle. 


A rack built for hay or other food- 
stuffs; also a slang name for the mess- 


Another slang name for the eating 

fence corner 

A style of bucking in which the horse 
zigzags much as the frontier rail fence. 

fence crawler 

An animal which can not be kept in 
a fenced pasture. 

fence cutter 

One of the men, who, during fence- 
cutting wars of the cattle country, cut 
fences; usually nesters and small ranch- 
ers fighting the larger ranch owners. 

fence lifter 

A very hard rain, when, as Peewee 
Deewees used to say, "The weather gets 
plumb wholesale." 

fence rider 

A later-day cowboy who keeps barbed- 
wire fences in repair ; also called a fencer. 
He rides leisurely along the fence, fol- 
lowing a narrow, ever-deepening trail 
that has been cut by many preceding 
trips. During his journey he watches for 
broken or loose wires, fallen posts, miss- 
ing staples, water gaps that may have 
washed deep enough for cattle to use in 
getting under the fence, open or tam- 
pered-with gates, and all other things 
which affect the security of the fence. 

He carries a pouch, usually a boot- 
top sewn at the bottom, full of staples, 
a hammer or hatchet, a pair of wire cut- 

ters, and a coil of stay wire. With these 
he can repair any damage he finds. (John 
M. Hendrix, "The Fence Rider," Cattle- 
man, XX, No. ii [April, 1934], 5.) 


See belly-buster, cutting gate, dead- 
man, drift fence, fence cutter, fence 
rider, fence stretcher, fence wagon, fur- 
row fence, silk, Texas gate, wing fence. 

fence stretcher 

A tool for pulling the fence wire tight- 
ly from post to post. A roll of wire may 
be attached to a wagon which stretches 
the wire by its progression. 

fence wagon 

A wagon to haul tools and material for 
the building and repairing of fences. 

fence wormin' 

Said when a horse bucks fence cor- 
nered. See fence corner. 


The heavy leather shields sewn to the 
stirrup leathers. 

fiador (fee-ah-dore') 

From the Spanish verb fiar, meaning 
to answer for or go surety for. It is a 
looped cord ordinarily made of braided 
horsehair, passing from the front of the 
bosal upward and over the top of the 
horse's head; sometimes, in corrupted 
form, called theodore (Philip A. Rollins, 
The Cowboy [New York, Charles Scrib- 
ner's Sons, 1936], 151). 


A slang name for a horse's head. The 
rider strives to keep a bronc from putting 
"his fiddle between his feet." 

fiddle foot 

Said when a horse prances around; 
also when a person drifts or has "itching 


See buying chips, clean his plow, comb 
his hair, crawl your hump, dig up the 
tomahawk, dog fiehts, fighting wages, 
fort up, hang up his hide, lock horns, 
pistol whip, powder burnin' contest, 
pull in his horns, sharpen his hoe. 

fightin' the bits 

Said of a horse which throws its head 



around when reined; also used with 
reference to an impatient or restless per- 

fightin' wages 

Money drawn for work where there 
is fighting to be done, such as range wars 
or organized rustler troubles. Under 
such conditions the pay is much higher 
than ordinary cowboy wages. 

figure eight 

A loop thrown so as to catch the fore- 
legs of an animal in the lower part of the 
8 while his head is caught in the upper 
part. This is done by throwing the 
straight overhead loop at an animal pass- 
ing to the left, so that the honda will 
hit him just behind the left ear, the loop 
going out in front and dropping over 
his head. The sudden stopping of the 
loop when it hits the animal at the honda 
causes the loop to fold across, and it is 
then up to the animal to get his forefeet 
into the lower part of the loop. (W. M. 
French, "Ropes and Roping," Cattleman, 
XXVI, No. 12 [May, 1940], 17-30.) 

fill a blanket 

To roll a cigarette. 


A young female horse, a slang name 
for an unmarried woman. 

fill your hand 

To draw a gun. 

final horses 

In rodeo contests the hardest ones to 
ride and used for the final decisions on 


See dig out the bedroll and drift, put 
his saddle in the wagon, set down. 


Made by plowing two parallel sets of 
furrows about fifty yards apart with four 
furrows in each set. The grass between 
the sets is purposely burned by men who 
are trailed by water-laden wagons. To 
a cowman a burned-out range is a sad 
sight and truly, as one said, "looks like 
hell with the folks moved out." 


The man who attends the branding 
fires and keeps the irons hot. 

fire out 

This term is sometimes used instead 
of vent, but it means the same process of 
barring out a brand. See vent brand and 


See backfire, fireguard, fried gent, 
hell stick, no breakfast forever. 


Indian term for whiskey. Derived 
from the custom of traders in demonstrat- 
ing the alcoholic content by throwing a 
little of the liquid on the fire to let it 
burn. Unless this was done, the Indian 
did not trade, fearing to be cheated. (W. 
S. Campbell [Stanley Vestal] to R.F.A.) 

first rattle out of the box 

An expression denoting prompt ac- 


The yellow oilskin slicker that all old- 
time cowboys kept neatly rolled and tied 
behind the cantles of their saddles took 
this name from the picture of its trade- 
mark, a fish. The cowboy might carry 
it until he wore it out and never need it, 
but let him leave it at the wagon for half 
a day and he was certain to get soaked 
to the hide. According to cowman philos- 
ophy, "A wise cowhand'll have somethin' 
besides a slicker for a rainy day," but 
few of them did. 

If the cowboy is riding a bronc that 
might pile him, and he is riding a slick- 
fork, he will tie this slicker behind the 
fork of his saddle for a bucking-roll to 
help wedge him in. Some riders, when 
riding a spooky horse which they are in- 
terested in. training, tie the slicker behind 
the cantle so that it nearly touches the 
ground on the left side. Of course the 
horse tries to kick it to ribbons, but he 
soon gets used to it and quits trying to 
stampede. Through this training the 
horse gets so that he does not spook at 
other boogers that are just as harmless. 
(Will James, All in a Day's Riding [New 
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933]) 

The cowboy also uses his slicker for a 
pack cover. If he has something he wants 
to keep dry when swimming a river, he 
rolls it up in the slicker tied on his sad- 


Western Words 

die. It is also a handy place to carry 
food or a bottle if he is traveling a dis- 
tance and ranches are far apart. 

It is made to turn water, but is not 
good for keeping out cold. I know one 
rider who was caught in a sudden north- 
er without a coat. He came back to the 
ranch wearing his slicker as an emer- 
gency covering, but by the time he had 
put his horse up and reached the house, 
he was as "blue as a whetstone." Loud 
in his condemnation of slickers as over- 
coats, he finished by saying, "If I'd had 
two of the damned things on, I'd a-froze 
plumb to death." 

five beans in the wheel 

No Westerner carries more than five 
cartridges in the cylinder of his gun. The 
hammer is always down on an empty 
chamber. He does this for safety, be- 
cause of the hair-trigger adjustment. 
Men who know guns have too much re- 
spect for them to take unnecessary 
chances, and a man who carries six 
cartridges in his gun is looked upon as 
a rank pilgrim. As the cowman says, "If 
y'u can't do the job in five shots, it's 
time to git to hell out o' there and hunt 
a place to hole up." 

five-eighths rig 

A saddle with the cinch between the 
three-quarters and the center-fire. Neither 
the five-eighths nor the seven-eighths are 
commonly used. 

fixin' for high ridin' 

Preparing to leave the country in a 
hurry, and when a man does so, "He 
don't stop for no kissin'." Also said of 
one doing something which will get him 
into trouble. 


A range horse with a bushy tail, a 
variant of fuzzy or fuzz-tail. 

flag at half-mast 

This is said of a cowboy when his 
shirttail is out, and he wouldn't be a 
cowboy if he didn't work with it out 
half the time. 

flag his kite 

To leave in a hurry. 

flame thrower 

A slang name for a six-gun. 


This word used as a verb means that 
the one doing the flanking catches the 
rope with his left hand just against the 
neck of the calf to be flanked, or against 
the ear on the opposite side of him, then 
slaps his hand into the flank on the cor- 
responding side. By a jerk upward and 
a pressure of the knees against the calf's 
side when it makes the next jump, the 
cowboy sends the calf's feet outward, and 
it comes down on its side (J. Evetts Ha- 
ley, XIT Ranch [Chicago, Lakeside 
Press, 1929], 158). This is practiced in 
branding the smaller calves and in calf- 
roping contests. 


One engaged in flanking; usually 
flankers work in pairs. 

flank girth 

Always pronounced girt, meaning in 
Texas the hind cinch. 

flank rider 

A rider, in trail work, who stays about 
one-third of the distance of the length 
of the column of cattle behind the swing 
riders, and two-thirds of the distance be- 
hind the point riders. 

flank riggin' 

A flank strap from the rear of the 
saddle, going far back on the flank of 
the horse. This device makes a horse 
buck, and, though most horses used in 
bucking contests buck without it, the 
flank rigging makes them "turn the 
works loose." See scratcher cinch. 

flannel mouth 

A person who talks much, a person 
who talks nonsense, a braggart. Doc 
Strawn used to tell of a braggart who 
"had more lip than a muley cow" and 
invariably "bragged himself out of a 
place to lean ag'in' the bar." Strong 
men never talk freely of what is in their 
hearts. There is no need; they under- 

flash rider 

A bronc buster who takes the first 
rough edges off unbroken horses. 

flat-heeled peeler 

An amateur cowboy, a farmer turned 




Slang for sleeping bag. 

flea bitten 

Said of a white horse which is covered 
with small brown freckles. 


A slang name for the cowboy's bedroll. 


See beef plumb to the hocks, get rid of 
his leaf-lard, put on tallow, shore had 


A rope used as a lasso. 


To fan a gun. 

floating outfit 

Five or six men and a cook kept by 
the larger ranches riding the range in 
the winter months to brand late calves 
and ones which had escaped the roundup. 

flower rowel 

The rowel of a spur shaped like the 
petals of a daisy. 

fluidy mustard 

The enigmatical name given by the 
cowboy to an odd-looking brand, 
brought into the district from the out- 
side, and having no numerals, letters, or 
familiar figures by which it might be 

flung him away 

An expression meaning thrown from 
a horse. One cowhand described a friend's 
being thrown with, "He went sailin' off, 
his hind legs kickin' 'round in the air 
like a migratin' bullfrog in full flight." 


The cook's helper. 


A sheet which is stretched at the end 
of the chuck wagon to make shade and 
shelter for the cook. 

flying brand 

One whose letter or figure has wings. 

flying mount 

Leaping from the ground into the sad- 
dle without the use of the stirrups. 


What the cowboy calls a hay hand or 


Traveling at speed. 

fold up 

Said when a horse starts bucking. 

folks on his mother's side wore 

Meaning that the one spoken of is a 
half blood. Often said of the offspring 
of the squaw men. 


See campin' on his trail, ridin' into his 
dust, trailing. 

following the tongue 

During trail days drovers set their 
direction by the North Star. At night, 
after locating this star, the wagon 
tongue was pointed in the direction to 
be traveled the next day. This was called 
following the tongue. 


See entries under chuck. 

fool brand 

One too complicated to be described 
with a brief name. 

fool hoe-man 

A contemptuous name for a farmer. 


Roping an animal by the forefeet. The 
roper approaches the critter from the left 
side, and a medium-sized noose is thrown 
over the animal's right shoulder and a 
little ahead, in position to receive one or 
both feet as they reach the ground. The 
noose is given an inward twist as it is 
thrown which causes the upper side of 
the noose to flip backward against the 
animal's knees, ready for the catch. 


A man hired by the ranch owner to 
manage the detailed affairs of the ranch. 


Said when a horse strikes his front 
shoes with the toes of his hind ones. See 


Western Words 


The front part of the saddletree which 
supports the horn (as noun) ; to mount 
a horse (as verb). 

forked brand 

One with a V-shaped prong attached 
to any part of a letter or figure. 


A saddle with a high horn and a 
cantle made to fit a man's form. 

fort up 

To barricade one's self for a siege. 


A common name for a .45-caliber gun. 


A .44-caliber gun. 


A title given any man who went to the 
California gold rush of 1849. 


A bluffer, an incompetent person pos- 
ing as competent. 

f our-up driver 

A driver of four teams or spans of 


A phosphorus light seen on the horns 
and ears of cattle during electrical storms. 


A wind cave or cyclone cellar. 


The cowboy's name for a grumbler or 
unwilling worker; also a saddle of un- 
usual pattern. 

free grass 

The open range of the early days ; also 
called free range. 

free ranger 

A man, who, during the early days of 
the barbed wire fence, was opposed to 
those wire barriers. Such opposition 
started wire-cutting wars on many ranges. 


See corn freight, grass freight. 

freighting his crop 

Said of a man eating or drinking 

freno (fray'no) 

This term means most often a bit, but 
it can mean the whole bridle, with the 
bit included. 

fresh horse 

A horse which has had a few month's 
rest and has gained a good amount of 
flesh and sometimes a very "bad heart" 
since last ridden (James H. Cook, Fifty 
Years on the Old Frontier [New Haven, 
Yale University Press, 1923], 37). 

fried chicken 

A sarcastic name for bacon which has 
been rolled in flour and fried. 

fried gent 

A man caught in a prairie fire. 

fried shirt 

A stiff-bosomed one. 


See amigo, compadre. 

frijoles (free-ho'lays) 

Dried Mexican beans, a staple in the 
diet of the range country. 

frog walk 

Said of a horse using straight, easy 

from who laid the chunk 

Action or quality of superlative de- 
gree. A common expression of speed is, 
"He burned the breeze from who laid 
the chunk." 

from soda to hock 

In faro soda is the first card exposed 
face up before bets are made. The last 
card in the box is said to be in hock. In 
the West the expression from soda to 
hock became common as meaning from 
beginning to end or the whole thing as 
the East uses from soup to nuts. 

front jockey 

The leather on the top of the skirt of 
the saddle, fitting closely around the 



fryin' size 

Said of a youth ; also of a man of short 
stature. I once asked a "shorty" of the 



range why he was so continuously in a 
good humor. Nothing seemed to anger 
him. His answer was, "I can't afford to 
get mad. My size won't let me whip no- 


See chip box, compressed hay, cow 
chips, cow wood, lump oil, prairie coal, 
prairie pancakes, squaw wood, surface 


An unbranded calf or yearling with 
no earmark. 

full grown in body only 

Said of a simple-minded or foolish 


A saddle whose tree is entirely covered 
with leather. 


When the seat of the saddle is entirely 
covered with leather. 


A saddle covered with fancy stamped 
designs. These hand-tooled saddles are 
not merely to satisfy a rider's ego. The 
rough indentations cause a friction be- 
tween the leather and the rider's smooth 
trouser legs, allowing him to sit tight in 
the saddle without the tiresome cramping 
of his legs that would result from riding 
a fractious horse with a smooth saddle. 

full war-paint 

The cowboy's best "Sunday-go-to- 
meetin' clothes." 


A western term for fancy dress. Far- 
adiddle and fofaraw are also used in this 
sense. These unusual words have been 

used in the West since the early trappers 
and scouts. No authority on record seems 
to know their origin. Fofaraw is prob- 
ably from fanfaron, meaning showy 
trifles, gaudy finery, and other gewgaws. 
Faradiddle and fumadiddle are perhaps 
corrupted variants. 


To bungle an attempt at drawing a 
gun. As one cowhand said, "He reached 
and fumbled, and it was a fatal weak- 

furrow fence 

A furrow plowed around one's hold- 
ings. Kansas recognized this as constitut- 
ing a fence and passed trespass laws to 
prosecute anyone crossing these furrows. 
Also during the late trail days furrows 
were plowed on each side of the cattle 
trails to keep drovers within certain 

fuste (foos'tay ) 

A saddletree, a Mexican saddle, a 
packsaddle. In Spanish the word means 
wood or a saddletree. American cowboys 
frequently use the word to distinguish 
the Mexican saddle from the American 
cowboy saddle. The Mexican uses less 
leather on his saddle than the American, 
therefore the American looks upon the 
Mexican saddle as being made principal- 
ly of wood. The fuste has a flat horn 
and a low cantle and is noted for its abil- 
ity to make a horse's back sore, there- 
fore it is not tolerated by the American. 
(Harold W. Bentley, Dictionary of 
Sfanish Terms in English [New York, 
Columbia University Press, 1932], 137— 


Range horse;, sometimes called fuzz 


Western Words 


"Yolishirt your pants on saddle leather donH make you a rider" 


A spittoon in a western saloon, made 
of a plug-tobacco box filled with sand 
or sawdust. 


Slang name for a spur. 


To spur a horse. 


Courting a girl. It is told of one cow- 
hand on the Pitchfork ranch that when 
he went gallin', her "old man had to 
pour water on the porch steps to keep 
'im from settin' there all night." 


A spur with a shank in the shape of 
a girl's leg. 


Slang name for spurs. 

gambler's gun 

A derringer, a .41 -caliber gun carry- 
ing a blunt-nosed bullet; called this be- 
cause of its popularity with early-day 


See both ends against the middle, buck- 
ing the tiger, close to the blanket, copper, 
could outhold a warehouse, dealing 
brace, dead man's hand, didn't have a 
tail feather left, from soda to hock, guns 
on the table, in the door, ivories, keep- 
ing cases, keno, lay 'em down, layin' 
down his character, open a snap, pass 
the buck, piker, saddle-blanket gambler, 
sweatin' a game, There's a one-eyed man 
in the game., tinhorn. 

gate horse 

A cowboy stationed at the corral gate 
for any purpose. 


Cattle brought together by the round- 



A horse which has been castrated. 

gelding smacker 

A slang name for a saddle. 

general work 

A term sometimes used in referring to 
a roundup. 


An animal used to neck to a wilder 
one to subdue the latter until he becomes 
more tractable; also a term sometimes 
used for a horsebreaker. See necking. 


Breaking and taming unbroken horses. 

get a rise from 

To make a person angry. 

get-away money 

What a rodeo contestant is lucky to 
have after the show to make his way to 
the next one. 

get down to cases 

To confine one's activities to the mat- 
ter in hand. 

get his back up 

To get into a fighting mood. 

get his bristles up 

Another expression for the above. 

get his hog back 

Recovering something that has been 
taken from one (William MacLeod 
Raine to R.F.A.). 

get rid of his leaf lard 

To reduce in flesh. 

get the bacon 

To succeed in one's efforts. 

get the bulge on 

To get the drop or advantage with a 



get the drop 

To get one at a disadvantage before 
he can draw his own weapon. 

Getting the drop 

See covering, deadwood, get the bulge, 
get the drop. 

getting up the horses 

Driving the saddle horses from the 
range or pasture to camp or headquar- 

ghost cord 

"A thin string tied about the horse's 
tongue and gums, and thence passed be- 
low the lower jaw and up to the rider's 
hand" (Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy 
[New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
J 936]> 152). It can be an instrument of 
extreme torture, and is used by some 
busters to inflict punishment for buck- 
ing. Ghost cords are of many forms. 
Some men have a secret style all their 
own and guard its nature jealously. Most 
ranchers frown upon the breaker who 
uses a ghost cord, as it has a tendency 
to make an outlaw of the horse. 


To cheat, to swindle, to use the spurs. 

giggle talk 

Foolish speech. 


To ride so that the horse's back be- 
comes sore. 

gin around 

To chase around, to chase cattle un- 


The Texan's name for a cinch ; always 
pronounced girt. 

git-up end 

What the cowboy humorously calls 
the rear end of a horse. It is this end upon 
which he lays the quirt when he wants 
him to go. 


See tip his hole card. 

Give 'im air! 

A cry given by the rider of a bad 
horse to his helpers when he is ready 
to start his ride. 

Giving directions 

See cow geography. 

glory rider 

One who rides an outlaw for the satis- 
faction of trying to conquer the beast. 


A bucking term for half-hearted pitch- 


See amble, andale, anti-godlin, brindle, 
buy a trunk, chassed, cut his picket pin 
and drifted, cut his suspenders, draggin' 
his navel in the sand, drag it, dust, fixin' 
for high riding, flag his kite, fogging, 
high-tail, hit the breeze, hit the trail, 
hive off, humped his tail at the shore end, 
Jingle your spurs!, keep your moccasins 
greased, lean forward and shove, leavin' 
Cheyenne, leg bail, light a shuck, look- 
see, made a nine in his tail, makin' far 
apart tracks, pasear, pull stakes, punch 
the breeze, rattle his hocks, roll his tail, 
roll the cotton, roll your wheels, slope, 
tail out, take to the tall timbers, take to 
the tules, throw dust, vamoose. 


A taut wire which stretches from the 
top of the bank of a stream to an anchor- 
age in mid-stream and carries a traveling 
bucket for the water supply. 


A carpetbag, bought at a store for a 

goin' down the rope 

When a roper approaches his catch 
holding the taut rope as he goes, he is 
said to be goin' down the rope. 

goin' like the heel flies are after 

Traveling with great and sudden 
speed. This phrase originated from the 
fact that cattle, when attacked by heel 
flies, run frantically to get into a bog or 

goin' over the withers 

A roping term which requires the 
roper, rope tied to saddle horn, to ride 
up close abreast of the animal to be 
caught, lean over the animal's back, and 
throw the loop about the forefeet. The 


Western Words 

catch being made, he spurs his horse 
square away from the victim, tripping it 
and completely turning it on its back. 

gold colic 

A desire to find gold, desire to make 

gone over the range 

A reference to death, deceased. 

gone to Texas 

An old saying dating back to the days 
when Texas developed the reputation for 
producing and harboring outlaws and is 
used as a synonym for at outs with the 

Many men left their real names behind 
when they crossed Red River. Names 
were not important in the early West, 
and most cowboys were known only by 
a nickname. As one cowman said, "The 
West don't care by what you call your- 
self. It's what you call others that lets 
you stay healthy." 

Many of the early cowboys, if they 
saw a stranger approaching the ranch, 
would ride up a draw out of sight until 
they made sure that the rider did not 
stop for a visit. The more "sheriff -look- 
ing" the visitor the more stimulating the 
effect on the cowboy's rate of speed. 

While attending a rodeo in Las Vegas, 
New Mexico, I heard an old former 
sheriff telling one of his cronies about a 
certain man who had "been out of Texas 
long 'nough to tell his right name." 

good comeback 

A quick and efficient retort. 

good enoughs 

Horseshoes purchased by the keg in 
various sizes ready to put on the horse's 
feet cold. These are used where there is 
no blacksmith to make a perfect fit for 
each individual. 

good Indian 

The frontier held every live Indian to 
be a bad one, so that when one spoke of 
a good Indian, he meant a dead one. 

good lay 

A well-managed ranch. 


A definition of this term can best be 

given in the words of J. Everts Haley: 
"One of his [Goodnight's] most talked- 
of discoveries was made on the Good- 
night Trail in 1867. When being trailed 
or worked, stock cattle have a tendency 
to get in heat, and upon starting with a 
herd of cows, Goodnight always put in 
a number of bulls. The trail is doubly 
hard on them, and after their testicles 
had been banged and bruised between 
their legs for several hundred miles, they 
sometimes died. He lost two on the Pecos 
drive, and another, a big dun bull from 
South Texas, had swelled and was about 
to die. Goodnight roped and threw him 
and got down to cut him, thinking he 
might recover. As he got out his knife, 
and thought how he could hardly spare 
another bull, an idea struck him. 

"He called to a hand to bring him 
a piece of grass rope, then quite rare, 
from the wagon. He pushed the dun's 
seeds up against his belly, and cut off 
the entire bag. He unraveled a piece of 
the rope, and having no needle, took his 
knife, punched holes in the skin, and 
sewed up the wound like an old tow sack. 
Within a week, instead of being dead, 
that bull was in the lead of the herd giv- 
ing everything trouble, and his voice was 
as coarse as ever. Thereafter Goodnight 
practiced the operation generally upon 
his old bulls on the range, almost dou- 
bling, he believed, their period of use. 
Of course, as he said: 'It does not make 
a young bull of an old one, but it does 
enable the old one to do a great deal of 
work.' " 

Throughout the Southwestern range 
country this operation is known as Good- 
nighting. (J. Evetts Haley, Charles 
Goodnight, Cowman and Plainsman 
[Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 
1936], 446.) 

good whittler 

A good cutting horse. 


To spur. 

goose drownder 

A cloudburst, a very heavy rain. 

goose hair 

The cowboy's name for feather- 
stuffed pillows. 




A spur with a long shank shaped like 
a goose's neck, the rowels fitting in its 


Digging for something. I once heard 
a cowman characterize a certain old pros- 
pector by saying he'd "been gopherin' 
in them hills as far back as an Injun 
could remember." 

got a halo gratis 

Sometimes said of one killed. 

got callouses from pattin' his 
own back 

Said of a braggart. 

gotch ear 

Where ticks have undermined the sup- 
porting cartilages of an animal's ear, 
causing it to droop. 

got his spurs tangled up 

Said of one confused or mixed up. 


A pot-hook used by the cook for lift- 
ing the heavy lids of his cooking utensils. 


To cheat, to swindle. 

Go 'way 'round 'em, Shep. 

This phrase is used as a warning of 
danger, or of something to be avoided. 
If the danger is great, there is often 
added the phrase, "There's seven black 
ones and a coulee." The sheep man 
judges the size of his flock by the num- 
ber of black sheep in it. Seven black 
ones indicate a large flock, and any 
Westerner knows the dangers of riding 
off the rim of a coulee. 

grabbin' the apple 

Catching the saddle horn while riding. 

grabbin' the brandin' iron by 
the hot end 

Taking a chance, getting the worst of 

grabbin' the nubbin' 

Catching the saddle horn. 

grabbin' the post 

Another term for the same act. 

grade up 

To improve the breed in cattle. 

grain fed 

Said of a horse regularly fed on grain. 
Grain feeding makes for harder muscles 
and greater endurance than grass feed- 
ing; consequently, work horses doing 
heavy work are usually grain fed. 


Farmer. This term is used principally 
in the Northwest, the Southwest's term 
being nester. 

grapevine telegraph 

The mysterious way news traveled on 
the frontier. 

grapplin' irons 

A slang name for spurs. 


See comin' grass, green up, prairie 
wool, standin' feed. 



grass-bellied with spot cash 

Rich, to have plenty. 

grassed him 

Said when a horse has thrown his rider. 

grass freight 

Goods shipped by bull team, called this 
because the motive power could eat their 
way to and from market. Grass freight 
was much slower, but much cheaper than 
freight hauled by mule teams. See corn 

grass huntin' 

Being thrown from a horse. 

grass is wavin 'over him 

Said of a dead person. 

grass money 

Money paid Indians for grazing rights 
on Indian land (W. S. Campbell [Stan- 
ley Vestal] to R.F.A.). 

grass train 

Ox trains of the early freighters, called 
this because oxen could live on grass, 
when horses and mules had to have grain. 

gravel in his gizzard 

Courage. Said of a brave man. 


Western Words 

grave patch 

A slang- name for a cemetery. 

graveyard shift 

The midnight to two A.M. shift of 
night herding. 

grazin' bit 

A small bit with a curb in the mouth- 
piece. It is a good all-round light-weight 
bit, does not punish a horse, and is used 
now in most states east of the Rockies. 

grazing permit 

A permit issued by the government to 
stockmen, allowing them an allotted 
number of cattle or sheep to be grazed 
on a specified area at a fixed price per 


A Mexican, particularly one of low 
caste. The American uses it as a term of 
disrespect or insult. 

greaser madhouse 

An occasional name for the intricate 
brands of the Mexican. 

greasy belly 

Another slang name for the cook. 

greasy-sack outfit 

A small ranch outfit which carries its 
commissary pack in a sack on a mule in 
lieu of a chuck wagon. 

greasy-sack ride 

When a group of riders are sent, with- 
out a chuck wagon, to scour the rough 
country for cattle, they carry their food 
in small cotton bags, and these trips are 
known as greasy-sack rides. 

great seizer 

A humorous name for a sheriff. 


A tenderfoot; also called greenhorn. 

green pea 

Another name for a tenderfoot. 

green up 

Said of spring when the grass begins 
to get green. 


An old-timer, especially one "sot" in 

his ways. Chuck Evans spoke of a cer- 
tain one's being "so obstinate he wouldn't 
move camp for a prairie fire." 

gritty as fish eggs rolled in sand 

Said of one possessing courage. 


The name sometimes given chaps made 
of bear skin with the hair left on. 

groanin' cart 

A term sometimes used in speaking of 
a heavily loaded chuck wagon. 


Cowboy term for letting the bridle 
rein touch the ground; the horse then 
stands without tying. 


A solid wall of mortar and gravel. 


A slang name for the chuck wagon. 

grown stuff 

Full-grown cattle. 


A cruel earmark, made by cutting off 
the entire ear smooth with the head, 
sometimes resorted to by rustlers to de- 
stroy the original earmark; also food. 


An animal which noses about the roots 
of the loco weed to eat them is called this 
and said to be grubbin' loco. 

grub house 

A slang name for the cook shack. 

grub-line rider 

Synonymous with chuck-line rider; 
sometimes shortened to grub-liner. Visit- 
ing from one ranch to another is one way 
a man can live in the winter. Some cow- 
boys chose this way to spend the winter 
for the sake of variety, and if such riders 
were not too plentiful, they were wel- 
come. People who had been shut in all 
winter were glad to see new faces, and 
these riders brought news from the out- 


A meal ; often the call to meals. 



grub spoiler 

Another slang name for the cook. 


To furnish provisions (as verb) 5 pro- 
visions (as noun). When one grubstakes 
another, it is usually with the understand- 
ing that he is to share in the profits of 
the outcome of whatever enterprise the 
recipient embarks upon (Philip A. Rol- 
lins, The Cowboy [New York, Charles 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 34). 

grub worm 

Another slang name for the cook. 

grulla (grooriyah) 

A mouse-colored horse. From the 
Spanish grulla, meaning a crane. A blu- 
ish-gray animal. In the Southwest the 
term is often used in referring to horses 
of this color. Such a horse is produced 
from a mixture of liver chestnut, ma- 
hogany bay, and some blacks. These 
horses are also called smokey and mouse 

guest of honor at a string party 

A man who has been hanged. Chick 
Coleman spoke of one whose "neck was 
too damned short and they took 'im out 
to stretch it." 


The curved portion of the underside 
of the fork of the saddle. 


A very hard rain. After such a rain, 
in cowboy parlance, it was usually "wet 
'nough to bog a snipe." 


The name for a pistol. The rifle, with 
the exception of the buffalo gun was 
never called a gun, but Winchester, rifle, 
.30- .30, from the caliber of the gun, or 
the slang name Worcestershire (Philip A. 
Rollins, The Cowboy [New York, 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 57). 


One who fans- his gun when shooting. 
The real fighter has nothing but con- 
tempt for the gun-fanner, and the fan- 
ner has small chance to live when pitted 
against the man who takes his time and 

pulls the trigger once. By "taking his 
time" is meant only that split-fraction 
of a second that makes the difference be- 
tween deadly accuracy and a miss. The 
muscles are fast, but there is a mental 


A man specially trained in the use of 
the pistol, and one ever ready to demon- 
strate this skill in blazing gunplay. The 
word soon became so pliant as to take 
into account the character of the man 
under discussion and became synonymous 
with killer. 

gunman's sidewalk 

The middle of the street, so that he 
could see from all sides and not run into 
an ambush. 


See cat-eyed, gun fanner, gunman, 
gunman's sidewalk, gunny, gun shark, 
gun tipper, gun wise, hell on wheels, 
leather slapper, lookin' for someone, 
Mexicans don't count, packs his gun 
loose, quick-draw artist, short-trigger 
man, thumber, trigger is delicate, trig- 
ger itch, two-gun man, wore 'em low. 

gunnin' for someone 

Said of one seeking an enemy to shoot. 


A gunman who has for hire his serv- 
ices as a killer. 


During some sheep wars the sheep men 
called the cowman by this name because 
he raided their sheep camps wearing a 
gunnysack over his head. 


One expert in the use of a gun. 


See artillery, belly-gun, big Fifty, 
black-eyed susan, blow-pipe, blue light- 
nin', buffalo gun, cutter, derringer, dew- 
ey, equalizer, five beans in the wheel, 
flame thrower, flip-cock, forty-five, 
forty-four, gambler's gun, gun, hair- 
trigger, hardware, Henry, hideout gun, 
hog-leg, iron, lead chucker, lead pusher, 
long Tom, man-stopper, meat in the 
pot, needle-gun, no beans in the wheel, 


Western Words 

old cedar, Old Reliable, one-eyed scribe, 
parlor gun, parrot-bill, peacemaker, per- 
suader, plow-handle, saddle scabbard, 
scatter-gun, Sharps, shootin' iron, six- 
gun, sleeve-gun, slip gun, smoke wagon, 
stingy gun, talkin' iron, thumb buster, 
Walker pistol, Worchestershire. 


Cowardly. I heard one cowboy say, 
"When I see a coward with a gun I git 
plumb skeered." Charlie Russell in Trails 
Plowed Under spoke of another's being 
"as gunshy as a female institute." 

gun slinging 

Slang for the act of shooting. 

guns on the table 

Fair play. 


One who shoots through the end of his 
holster without drawing his weapon. The 
holster works on a swivel. 

gun- wadding bread 

The cowboy's name for light bread. 

gun wise 

Said of one with a thorough knowl- 
edge of guns. 

gurglin' on a rope 

Said of one hanged. 


A slang name for spurs. 

gut lancers 

Another slang name for spurs. 


Just another of the cook's many nick- 

gut shot 

Said of one shot in the stomach. 

gut shrunk 

Having been without food for a con- 
siderable time. 


A bucking horse of ability. 


A slang name for whiskey. 


In more settled communities when one 
hears the term gyffed used, it calls to 
mind a time when one had, in the past, 
been talked out of some hard-earned 
money by a stock salesman or a confi- 
dence man. To the cowboy the term has 
an entirely different meaning. Many of 
the creeks and rivers running through 
the country in which he works are heav- 
ily impregnated with gypsum, or other 
alkaline salts. 

Drunk in moderate quantities, if it is 
fairly cool, the water causes no ill ef- 
fects, but drunk in large quantities dur- 
ing the summer months when it is tepid 
and the drinker is hot from the branding 
pen or dusty roundup, the water produces 
the effect similar to that suffered by the 
small boy who has eaten freely of green 
apples, only much worse. No matter how 
old the old-timer, or how much of the 
water he has consumed in the past, he is 
never immune to gypping. He knows 
it, but if thirsty enough, will drink water 
wherever it is found, regardless of min- 
eral or other content, even though it has 
the effect of the famed croton oil. (John 
M. Hendrix, "Cow Camp Sanitation," 
Cattleman, XXI, No. n [April, 1935], 




"It's the man that's the cowhand, not the outfit he wears" 

hacienda (ah-the-en'dah) 

A Spanish noun meaning a landed 
estate, usually the homestead of the own- 
er, devoted to stock raising. 


A halter. Corrupted from the Spanish 
jdquima ( hah' ke-mah) . The American 
cowboy pronounces his Spanish "by ear." 
When he first heard the word jdquima, 
he pronounced it hackamer, as it sound- 
ed. Gradually it became hackamore, as 
it is found in the dictionary today. (S. 
Omar Barker, "Sagebrush Spanish," 
New Mexican Magazine, XX, No. 12 
[December, 1942], 19.) 

It is usually an ordinary halter having 
reins instead of a leading rope. More 
commonly it consists of a headpiece some- 
thing like a bridle with a bosal in place 
of a bit, and a brow-band about three 
inches wide that can be slid down the 
cheeks to cover the horse's eyes, but it 
has no throat-latch. 

had a bilious look 

Said of anything not in first-class con- 

had his hair raised 

Said of one scalped by Indians. 

had his pony plated 

The cowboy often uses this expression 
to signify that he had his horse shod. 

hair brand 

A brand made by holding the brand- 
ing iron against the animal just long 
enough to burn the hair, and not the 
hide (as noun). The hair grows out, ef- 
facing the signs of the brand, and the 
rustler can then put his own brand on 
the animal. To brand in this manner (as 
verb). (J. Eveits Haley, XIT Ranch 
[Chicago, Lakeside Press, 1929], 126.) 

hair case 

The cowboy's slang name for a hat. 

hair in the butter 

A delicate situation. 

hair lifter 

A frontier name for an Indian on the 
warpath; also a dangerous and exciting 

hair off the dog 

Said when a man has gained experi- 

hair over 

Said of a brand when the hair grows 
back over it. 

hair pants 

A general classification of chaps with 
the hair on. 


Used as a verb, it means to mount a 

hair pounder 

A nickname for a teamster. 

hair rope 

A rope made of horsehair. This rope 
is never used as a reata. It kinks too eas- 
ily and is too light to throw. Hair ropes 
are used for hackamore tie-ropes, and 
used in this way are called mecates. See 


A gun is said to have a hair-trigger 
when its mechanism has been filed to 
produce an explosion with the slightest 
touch upon the trigger. 


Unbranded animal, especially a calf. 

halfbreed bit 

A bit that has a narrow wicket-shaped 
hump in the middle of the mouth-bar, 
within which a "roller," or vertical 
wheel with a broad and corrugated rim, 
is fixed (Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy 


Western Words 

[New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
1936], 148). 

half-pint size 

Something' small. 

half -rigged saddle 

One with a triangle of leather tacked 
on for a seat. 

halter broke 

Said of a horse trained to run with 
the remuda; broke to lead. 

halter puller 

A horse with the habit of pulling back 
on the halter rope. 


An unintelligent horse. 


The severing of the Achilles tendon of 
an animal, thereby rendering it helpless 
to control its leg. Wolves often bring 
down their victims by hamstringing 
them. Also used figuratively as to foil 
one's plans, or place one at a disadvan- 


A measurement used in speaking of 
the height of a horse. A hand is four 
inches. Thus a fifteen hand horse is sixty 
inches, the measurement being taken 
from the ground to the top of his withers. 
Also the most common term in the cow 
country for a cowboy, shortened from 

hand-and-spit laundry 

What the cowboy calls a laundry run 
by a Chinaman who "sprays a feller's 
best Sunday shirt with his mouth for a 
sprinklin' can." 

handbill roundup 

In the early eighties the Wyoming 
Stock Growers' Association took in such 
a vast territory that it sent out notices 
of dates for the start of the roundups by 
handbills. From this the cowboy dubbed 
them handbill roundups. 


Sometimes used in speaking of the sad- 
dle horn. 

hang and rattle 

To stick to the finish. 


See California collar, cottonwood 
blossom, decorate a cottonwood, die in 
a horse's nightcap, dressed in a hemp 
four-in-hand, dying with throat trouble, 
exalted, guest of honor at a string party, 
gurglin' on a rope, hemp committee, 
hemp fever, human fruit, hung up to 
dry, lookin' through cottonwood leaves, 
lookin' up a limb, lynchin' bee, mid-air 
dance, necktie social, playin' cat's cradle 
with his neck, ridin' under a cottonwood 
limb, rope croup, rope meat, stiff rope 
and a short drop, strangulation jig, 
string up, telegraph him home, Texas 
cakewalk, use him to trim a tree. 

hang up his hide 

To put one out of commission. 

hankerin' to sniff Gulf breeze 

Said of a "wanted" man "rollin' his 
tail south," and making for the Mexican 


See singin' with his tail up, tail over 
the dashboard. 

happy hunting ground 

The white man's term for the Indian's 

hard-boiled hat 

The cowboy's name for a derby, some- 
thing he could not always resist using 
for a target. 

hard money 

Coin, the only kind of money seen in 
the early West. 


Said of a horse that does not respond 
to the bit. 


A mule. 

hard to sit 

Said of a good bucker. 


A common name for a gun. I heard 
one cowhand speak of a heavily armed 
man with, "He's packin' 'nough hard- 
ware to give 'im kidney sores." 



hard- winter bunch 

Men whose favorite pastime is talking 
of the particularly hard winters through 
which they have passed. 

hard wintered 

The range man often uses this term 
when referring to anyone who seems to 
be in hard circumstances, as, "He musta 
hard wintered some by the looks of his 


A liar, or one incapable of telling the 
truth. The name is derived from the old 
legend that anyone drinking from the 
Hassayampa River in Arizona could 
never again tell the truth. 

hasta la vista (ahs'tah lah 

A Spanish term, frequently used in the 
cattle country where Spanish is spoken, 
as a friendly parting equivalent to I'll 
see you later. 

hatajo (ah-tay'ho) 

From the Spanish hatajar, to divide 
into flocks or small herds. A train of 
pack animals, commonly mules, used in 
transporting merchandise, especially in 
mountainous regions where other modes 
of transportation are impossible. 


See bonnet strings, conk cover, hair 
case, hard-boiled hat, John B., lid, pots, 
Stetson, war bonnet, woolsey. 

haul hell out of its shuck 

Said of a good bucker; also of a per- 
son raising a disturbance. 

haul in your neck 

A command to cease your aggressive- 

hay burner 

A slang name for a horse, usually one 
kept up and fed hay and grain instead of 
being turned out to pasture. 

hay crib 

Log walls without a roof enclosing 
hay stacks. 

hay shoveler 

One who feeds cattle from hay stacks 
in winter; a farmer. 

hay slayer 

A hay hand. 


Crazy, muddled, twisted up. When a 
Westerner removes baling wire from hay, 
he twists it into crazy shapes before 
throwing it away, thus keeping stock 
from becoming entangled in it. From 
this practice the expression originated. 

haywire outfit 

An inefficient outfit or ranch. 


To drive slowly. 


A man who assists the buster in break- 
ing horses. His duty, especially when the 
horse is broken outside the corral, is to 
keep the animal turned so that his buck- 
ing will not take him too far away. 

haze the talk 

To lead or turn a conversation into 
certain channels. 

head and heel 

The event at rodeos where one roper 
catches the steer by the head and another 
ropes the hind feet, both putting the ani- 
mal down against time. 

head-and-tail string 

A practice of mule packers on the trail 
of tying the halter rope of each animal 
to the tail of the animal preceding it to 
keep the train in single file. 

head catch 

The act of roping an animal by the 
head instead of by the feet. 

head 'em up 

To put a leader, a steer which leads 
the others, in the direction the drover 
wishes the herd to go. 

head for the settin' sun 

Synonymous with on the dodge. In 
early days every lawbreaker headed west 
for the unsettled frontier where there was 
a longer distance between sheriffs. 

headlight to a snow storm 

Said of a very black Negro. 


Western Words 


The house of the ranch owner, the 
business office of the ranch. 


The headgear of a horse, that part 
of the bridle which encompasses the head. 

head taster 

The ranch manager. 

heart-and-hand woman 

A wife obtained through a matri- 
monial agency. The name originated 
from the old magazine, The Heart and 
Hand, published by a matrimonial bu- 
reau. The cowboy's simple soul believed 
all the descriptions. Hell, wasn't it print- 

Often a bachelor cowboy started his 
"letter courtship" out of curiosity, 
through desire to receive news from the 
outside, or just for a joke. In time he 
very often discovered he had committed 
himself and found himself driving a 
buckboard fifty miles to meet a lady- 
love whom he had never really intended 
to see in his home corral. When she 
stepped off the train, he sometimes dis- 
covered that his little joke had backfired 
because "the photograph she'd sent didn't 
show up all the blemishes." Many a wo- 
man of this kind was a widow of the 
grass variety, but, as the cowboy would 
say, "She didn't let none of it grow under 
her feet." 

hear the owl hoot 

To have many and varied experiences, 
to get drunk. 

heating his axles 

Said of one running swiftly on foot. 
Ranicky Reynolds described such a run- 
ner as "shore heatin' his axles and doin' 
his best to keep step with a rabbit." 

heavy cow 

A cow carrying an unborn calf. 


To rope an animal by the hind feet. 
Never used on horses. 



heel fly 

A small fly which stings cattle on the 

tender part of the heel, driving them 
frantically to water or bog holes to es- 
cape punishment. 

heel-fly time 

A dreaded season in the cattle country, 
from the middle of February to the 
middle of April, when the insects are at 
their worst. 

heel squatter 

The cowboy is sometimes called thus 
because it is a common practice for him 
to rest by squatting upon his heels. This 
is not a comfortable seat for the lay- 
man, but the cowboy will squat comfort- 
ably on his boot-heels to eat his meals 
when out on the range, to spin his yarns, 
and, in fact, he is always ready "to take 
comfort in a frog squat." 


Said of anything large. I heard one 
cowhand say, in describing a large man, 
"For weight and size he'd take first prize 
at a bull show." Another conveyed the 
same thought with, "He's as wide as a 
barn door and long as a wagon track." 

heifer brand 

To tie a handkerchief around a man's 
arm to designate that he is to play the 
part of a female at a dance where there 
are "not 'nough ladies to go 'round." 
He is then said to dance "lady fashion," 
and his reward is being allowed to "set 
with the ladies" between dances. This 
privilege, however, quite often makes 
him feel "as out o' place as a cow on 
a front porch." 

Sometimes a playful puncher ignores 
the white emblem of womanhood and 
gets pretty rough, but these volunteer 
"females" can take it and pay back with 

hell bent for trouble 

Seeking fights or making oneself other- 
wise obnoxious. 

he'll do to ride the river with 

This expression is about the highest 
compliment that can be paid a cowman. 
It originated back in the old trail days 
when brave men had to swim herds 
across swollen, treacherous rivers. The 
act required level-headed courage, and 



as time passed, this phrase meant that 
the one spo'ken of was loyal, dependable, 
trustworthy, and had plenty of sand. 


In great haste. 

hell in his neck 

Said of a determined man. 

hellin' 'round town 

Going from place to place in town 
seeking trouble. This was done mostly 
by the younger men. Older and more 
settled ones held the theory that "pullin' 
up the town to look at its roots don't 
help its growth none," and that "only 
a fool spends his time makin' the town 

hell on wheels 

This expression originated during the 
building of the Union Pacific Railway 
in 1867. As the rails were laid westward, 
the honkytonks, gambling hells, and har- 
lots were loaded on flat cars and moved 
to the new terminal. All the deserted 
town's hell was then on wheels to "pull 
their freight." The term was also some- 
times used in speaking of the old-time 
gun fighters. Clee Taggart described 
them as "them longhairs who done their 
damndest to fertilize the cow country's 
reputation for bein' wild and woolly." 

hell stick 

What the cowman sometimes called 
the sulphur match so common on the 
range in the early days, because when 
struck it really gave him a "whiff of 

hell wind 

A tornado. 

hell with the hide off 

Extremely troublesome. 


A slang name for rope. 

hemp committee 

A name sometimes given to vigilantes, 
a group of self-appointed law enforcers 
bent upon a hanging. 

hemp fever 

A hanging. The victim was sometimes 

spoken of as being "given a chance to 
look at the sky." 

hen-fruit stir 



An early repeating breech-loading, 
lever-action rifle first used by the Union 
Army in the Civil War. This type of 
rifle never became popular as a military 
weapon, but was used to some extent 
upon the frontier. 


Comfort stuffed with feathers. 

hen wrangler 

A name given a chore boy when one 
is employed upon a ranch. 


A bunch of cattle (as noun) ; to bunch 
cattle or horses and keep them bunched 
(as verb). 

herd broke 

Said of cattle when they become ac- 
customed to traveling in a herd. 


See all hands and the cook, bedding 
down, bed-ground, bob-tail guard, close 
herd, cocktail guard, day herd, father 
the herd, graveyard shift, herd, herd 
broke, killpecker guard, locate, loose 
herd, night guard, night herd, night 
herder, off herd, parada, relief, rustle, 
singin' to 'em, standing night guard, 
wastin' 'em. 

herrar (er-rar') 

A Spanish verb meaning to brand or 
mark with an iron. 


A shoulder holster. 

hide-out gun 

An auxiliary weapon, usually short 
barreled, so that it could be hidden upon 
one's person. 

hide with a stovepipe hole 

A hide with the brand cut out, much 
resembling a tent canvas with a stove- 
pipe hole cut through it. This ruse is 
resorted to by rustlers and meat thieves 


Western Words 

to hinder identification of the animal by- 
its owner. 

There was a certain outfit whom Old 
Man Barnes, of the Booger F, suspected 
of beefing his cattle. He was always 
complaining about their "half-solin' 
their insides with his beef." I happened nip draw 
to be with him one day when we rode 
into their camp just after supper. 

"See there," said Barnes to me, "ever' 
damn one of 'em settin' there pickin' 
Booger F gristle out of his teeth right 


See cache. 

hill rat 

A prospector of the hill country. 


See cloudin' the trail. 

When the gun is worn on the hip, 
usually slanting forward with the butt 
turned to the rear, and is unlimbered 
with a swift down and up movement. 



high heel 

A cowboy expression meaning that 
the one spoken of is forced to walk. 

high-heeled time 

A common expression to convey the 
cowboy's idea of a good time with fun 
and frolic. 

high-line rider 

Outlaw. He usually rides the high 
country to keep a lookout for any sher- 
iffs or posses. 

high lonesome 

A big drunk. 


A trick-roping term meaning a body 
spin which repeatedly raises and lowers 
the noose from the ground to the limit 
of the operator's reach above his head. 


A horse which leaps high into the air 
when bucking; also called a high-foler. 
This horse, while not quite so fast as 
others, is extremely rough and goes after 
his rider with a cool and deliberate aim 
that seldom fails to disqualify him. Also, 
in rodeo work, this type of horse pleases 
the customers, for he puts on a great 
show, and his actions are easily followed. 


To depart suddenly and uncermon- 

hillbilly cowboy 

One working for an outfit which 
ranges pretty well in to the sticks. 

hip shooting 

Firing a gun without raising it above 
the level of the waist. When firing at 
close range, accuracy is not needed, sights 
are unnecessary, and the gun is shot by 
instinctively pointing it at an adversary 
and firing as soon as it clears the holster. 

hired killer 

A gunman who leases his services to a 
less courageous man to remove an enemy. 

His calves don't suck the right 

Said of a rustler. 

His cinch is gettin' frayed. 

Said of one who has worn out his 
welcome. An unwanted person might be 
described as being "welcome as a pole- 
cat at a picnic," "welcome as a rattler 
in a dogtown," "pop'lar as a tax collec- 
tor," or "folks go 'round 'im like he 
was a swamp." 

His cows have twins. 

Said of one suspected of stealing cattle. 

his leg tied up 

Said of one at a disadvantage. The ex- 
pression originated from the custom of 
tying up the leg of a green bronc to shoe 
or saddle him. Shoeing some of the west- 
ern horses is a ticklish experience. After 
completing such a job, Jake Wheeler, of 
the Horsecollar, declared that he "tacked 
iron on ever'thing that flew past." I re- 
member one cowhand, kidding another 
from away back in the hill country, 
telling us that they "had to tie his leg up 
to give 'im a haircut" when he came to 

7 6 


His saddle is slippin'. 

Said of one losing his efficiency, said 
of one telling a tall tale. 

his tail draggin' 

Said of a coward ; also of one discour- 

His thinker is puny. 

Said of a weak-minded person. Such 
a person is said to be "off his mental 

h'ist one 

To take a drink. 

hitchin' bar 

A hitchrack. 

hit the breeze 

To travel, to depart. 

hit the daylight 

Said when the horse ridden in a con- 
test comes out of the chute. 

hit the trail 

To leave, to travel. 

hive off 

Another expression meaning to leave 
(William MacLeod Raine to R.F.A.). 


A leather cuff to buckle about each 
of the forelegs of a horse above the pas- 
tern joints, the two cuffs being connected 
with a short swivel chain (as noun). 
Most men get the same result with a wide 
band of cowhide, or a diagonally cut 
half of gunnysack. The act of applying 
these cuffs to horses (as verb). They are 
only applied, however, at a camp, for at 
the ranch, if the horse is not placed in 
a corral, he is turned loose (Philip A. 
Rollins, The Cowboy [New York, 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 141—42). 
When a rider camps at night, he wants 
to be able to find his horse in the morn- 
ing. With hobbles on, the horse can move 
about with a certain amount of freedom 
and find grazing, but he will be unable 
to get very far because he can travel only 
at a slow walk. 

hobbled stirrups 

Stirrups connected with a strap or rope 
passing under the horse's belly. They 
have the advantage of furnishing a form 

of anchorage during bucking, but are 
held in contempt by the real rider, and 
barred at rodeos. Though hobbled stir- 
rups practically tie a rider into the saddle, 
they are extremely dangerous, for if the 
horse falls, the rider has no chance to 
free himself quickly. In the cow country 
a man who rides with hobbled stirrups 
is considered "plumb loco," and is cer- 
tainly not a top hand. 


See chain hobble, clogs, cross hobble, 
hobble, hobbled stirrups, Scotch hobble, 

hobble your lip 

Advice to quit talking so much. 


A dance; also called hoe down. Any 
old-timer will tell you that "Dancin' in 
them days wasn't jes' wigglin' 'round 
and shakin' yore rump." 


Said of a horse with roached back, the 
opposite of swayback; a narrow ridge 
with steep sides leading from a high to 
a lower level. 

hoggin' rope 

A short rope used in hog-tying; also 
called a hoggin' string and figgin' 


A popular name for the Bisley model 
single-action Colt, but later slangily ap- 
plied to any big pistol of the frontier 

hog skin 

What the cowboy sometimes calls the 
small eastern riding saddle. 


Rendering an animal helpless after it 
is thrown by tying its two hind legs and 
a front one together with a short piece 
of rope. The ties are made with half 
hitches and the rope used is a small soft 
one about three feet long. On one end 
is a loop which the man doing the tying 
slips on the foreleg of the down animal. 
Standing behind the animal, with one 
knee on it to help hold it down, he then 
sticks his foot under and behind the hocks 


Western Words 

and boosts the hind legs forward, at the honest pitcher 
same time drawing the hoggin' string 
under and around both hind feet. This 
puts the two hind feet on top, pointing 
forward, and the forefoot below, point- 
ing back. With two or three turns and 
two half-hitches the animal is thoroughly- 
tied. Horses are never hog-tied. 


Putting carbon disulphide ("high- 
life") on an animal. It puts the brute 
into a frenzy. 

holding spot 

The location selected for stopping and 
working a herd on roundup. 

hold of the jerk-line 

To be in control. 

hold the high card 

To have the advantage over another. 

hold-up man 

A robber; also a man stationed at 
crossroads, on a hill, or at critical points 
to keep a herd from leaving the trail. 

hole up 

To keep indoors in bad weather; also 
used in the sense of an outlaw hiding out, 
yet prepared to defend his liberty. 

holler calf rope 

To give up, to surrender, to acknowl- 
edge defeat, to declare one has had 

hombre (om'bray) 

Man. Generally applied by Americans 
to one of low character, or in conjunc- 
tion with such adjectives as bad, tough, 

homeless as a poker chip 

Said of a restless person, one with a 
wanderlust, one who never remained long 
in one locality. 

home range 

The territory with which certain cat- 
tle are acquainted and where they belong. 


A claim (as noun) ; to live and prove 
up this claim (as verb). 


The cowman's name for the home- 
seeker who came west to farm. 

A horse which starts pitching as soon 
as mounted and tries by every device to 
unseat its rider. Some horses will make 
no effort to pitch until they get their 
riders off guard, then before the riders 
are aware of the horses' evil intentions, 
they find themselves on the ground. 
These latter horses are not classed as 
honest pitchers. 

honda (on'dah) 

A knotted or spliced eyelet at the busi- 
ness end of a rope for making a loop; 
sometimes a metal ring is used, though 
some men claim that metal objects might 
possibly blind an animal, and they will 
not "set" to keep the struggling brute 
from freeing itself. Hondas tied in the 
rope itself should be protected with a 
piece of slick leather sewed about the 
upper end of the loop so that the rope 
will not burn through it. (W. M. French, 
"Ropes and Roping," Cattleman, XXVI, 
No. 12 [May, 1940], 17—30.) The term 
is Spanish, meaning eye, and originally 
had reference to the receptacle in a sling 
for holding a stone or other article to be 


A low saloon, dance hall, or other 
place of amusement. 

honkytonk town 

The towns at the end of the old cattle 
trails came under this classification, as 
their business districts were composed 
largely of saloons and honkytonks. Such 
towns were "tough" and, as the cowman 
would say, a "bad place to have your 
gun stick." 


The man who drives the hoodlum 
wagon, most generally the night-hawk. 


A cabin where bachelor cowboys some- 
times sleep during bad weather. 

hoodlum wagon 

A slang name for the bed-wagon. 

hoofed locusts 

The cowboy's occasional name for 
sheep, because it is claimed that their 
sharp hoofs kill the grass down to the 




A slang name for a blacksmith, or 

Hook 'em cow! 

The war cry of the branding corral 
and a phrase of encouragement at every 


A slang name for spurs. 

hook up 

To harness horses to a wagon or 
buggy. The verb harness is never used in 
the cow country. 


A roping term. This throw can be 
made either from the ground or on horse- 
back. The roper carries the loop in his 
hand, and when the chance presents it- 
self, he swings one quick whirl around 
in . front of him toward the right, up 
over his head, and releases the loop and 
rope in the direction of the target. As it 
comes over, it is turned in a way to 
cause it to flatten out before it reaches 
the head of the animal to be roped. It 
lands straight down and so has a fair- 
sized opening. 

It is a fast loop and is strictly a head 
catch, being especially used to catch 
horses in a corral. It is thrown with a 
rather small loop and has the additional 
virtue of landing with the honda sliding 
down the rope, taking up the slack as it 
goes. (W. M. French, "Ropes and Rop- 
ing," Cattleman, XXVI, No. 12 [May, 
1940], 17— 30; Duff Green to R.F.A.) 

The rope has not been slung over the 
horse's head, for to sling it so would 
cause even the steadiest old horse to be- 
come excited. Using the hooley-ann, half 
a dozen men can rope mounts at the same 
time without exciting the horses. (John 
M. Hendrix, "Roping," Cattleman, 
XXII, No. 1 [June, 1935], 16, 17.) 

hooligan wagon 

A wagon used on short drives to carry 
fuel and water in a country where these 
commodities are "scarce. 


The act of leaping forward and alight- 
ing on the horns of a steer in bulldogging 

in such a manner as to knock the steer 
down without having to resort to twist- 
ing him down with a wrestling hold. 
This practice is barred at practically all 
recognized rodeos. Also to throw a big 
time in town — to paint the town red. 


The cowboy's name for jail, now used 
throughout the country. From the Span- 
ish juzgado (hooth-gah'oo), meaning 
tribunal or court of justice. The Spanish 
j is always pronounced like the English 
h and a d. between vowels is breathed 
rather than pronounced. 


Short for hoot owl. 

hop for mama 

To buck. 

hoppin' dog holes 

Said of a cowhand riding in the 
prairie dog country. 


Hopping into and out of a vertical 
noose while keeping it spinning. 


That part of the saddle above the fork. 
Its technical name, fommel, is never 
used by the cowman. 

horned jack rabbit 

A name sometimes given the longhorn 
by the old-time cowmen because it was 
all horn and speed. 

hornin' in 

Meddling, intruding. One of the cow- 
man's codes is, "Never interfere with 
nothin' that don't bother you." 

horning the brush 

Angry, or displaying aggressiveness. 

horns sawed off 

Said of one rendered helpless, to take 
the fight out of one. 

horn string 

A leather or buckskin string, fastened 
to the horn of the saddle and used for 
securing a rope to it. 


The dodging and wriggling move- 
ments of a roped steer, by means of 


Western Words 

which he throws off the rope. The steer 
thus hornswoggles the cowboy from 
whom he escapes. 

horn-tossin' mood 


Horse Colors 

See albino, baldfaced, bay, bayo coy- 
ote, blaze, blood bay, buckskin, calico, 
chestnut, chin spot, claybank, cremello, 
flea bitten, grulla, Indian pony, moros, 
nigger horse, overo, paint, palomilla, 
palomino, piebald, pinto, race, roan, sa- 
bino, skewbald, snip, sock, sorrel, star, 
star strip, stew ball, stocking, tobiano, 
trigueno, zebra dun. 

horse jewelry 

Fancy riding paraphernalia. 

horse man / 

One who raises horses. 


A mounted person, or one skilled in 


See horse man, horseman. 

horse pestler 

The herder of the saddle horses, 


Tricks, pranks, and practical jokes by 
which the cowboy displays his peculiar 
and rough sense of humor. 

Horse Rigging 

See bridle, come along, corona, fiador, 
ghost cord, hackamore, headstall, horse 
jewelry, jerk line, martingale, morral, 
nose-bag, ribbons, sacking, saddle, saddle 
blanket, surcingle, tapaderos. 

horse rustler 

Another title for the wrangler. 


See anvil, appaloosa, apron-faced 
horse, band, bangtail, barefooted, bell 
mare, bone-yard, bottom, breaking age, 
break range, bridle wise, bronco, broom- 
tail, brush horse, bucker, buck the sad- 
dle, bull-windy, bunch grasser, bunch 

quitter, buttermilk horse, buzzard-bait, 
buzzard-head, caballado, caballo, calf 
horse, California sorrel, camp-staller, 
caponera, carry the news to Mary, carv- 
in' horse, cavvy, cavvy-broke, cayuse, 
choosin' match, chopping horse, churn- 
head, chute crazy, circle horse, clear- 
footed, close-to-the-ground bucker, cold 
jawed, coon-footed, cow-hocked, cow- 
horse, cow pony, coyote dun, crease, 
cremello, cribber, crock-head, croppy, 
crow bait, cuitan, cut horse, cutter, cut- 
ting horse, dead mouthed, ear down, 
epizootic, ewe-necked, fall back, falls out 
of bed, fan-tail, fiddle, fiddle foot, fight- 
in' the bits, filly, final horses, fizzy, forg- 
ing, fresh horse, frog walk, fuzzy, get- 
ting up the horses, git-up end, good 
whittler, gotch ear, grain fed, grounding, 
grubber, gut twister, had his pony plated, 
halter broke, halter puller, hammerhead, 
hay burner, high-roller, hog back, hokey- 
pokey, huntin' a horse, Indian broke, In- 
dian pony, individual, jerked down, 
jerk-line string, jigger, jiggle, jughead, 
killer, knothead, last year's bronc, lead 
span, loco, loggin', long horse, manada, 
man-killer, mesteno, mockey, moon-eyed, 
mount, mule-hipped horse, mustang, 
navvy, neck-reiner, nicking, nigger 
brand, nigger-heeled, nigger horse, night 
horse, night mare, notch in his tail, off 
side, oily bronc, one-man horse, Oregon 
puddin' foot, owlhead, pack train, peck- 
er-neck, peg pony, pestle-tail, pie-biter, 
plug, pole team, potros, puddin' foot, 
puller, pumpkin skins, quarter horse, 
range horses, rat-tailed horse, raw one, 
remuda, remudera, ridge runner, rockin' 
chair horse, rope horse, rope shy, rough 
string, runaway bucker, sabinos, saddle 
band, saddler, salado, salty bronc, scala- 
wag bunch, seraglios, set back, set fast, 
shavetail, short horse, shotgun cavvy, 
show bucker, smokes his pipe, smooth, 
smooth mouth, snake eyes, snatch team, 
snorter, snorty, snub horse, sobre paso, 
soft, sop and 'raters, spoiled horse, spooky, 
squaw horse, stampeder, steer horse, stick 
horse, stock horses, strays, string, stud 
bunch, stump sucker, sugar eater, suicide 
horse, stock horse, strays, string, stud 
swimming horse, swing team, tail pulling, 
tender, toothing, turn a wildcat, turned 
the cat, twitch, walkin' down, walkin' 
sticks, wall-eyed, wassup, watermelon 



under the saddle, weedy, wet stock, 
wheel horse, whey-belly, whittler, wild 
bunch, willow tail, winter horses, 
witches' bridle, work horses, wring-tail, 


See bar shoe, boot, bull shoes, good 
enoughs, had his pony plated, hoof- 
shaper, Indian shod, shoe, slipper. 

horse-thief's special 

The cowboy's name for a dish made 
of boiled rice and raisins. 

horse wrangler 

See wrangler. 

hospital cattle 

Weak stock that have not wintered 

hot blood 

A thoroughbred. 

hot foot 

To burn a calf between the toes with 
a hot iron as done by some rustlers to 
keep the calf from following its mother. 

hothouse stock 

A contemptuous name given by old- 
timers to the newly introduced Hereford 

Hot iron! 

The call of the brander when he wants 
a freshly heated iron. 

hot lead 

Bullets fired from a gun. 

hot rock 

A slang name for a biscuit. 


The cowboy's bedroll. 

hot rope 

One that slips through one's hands un- 
til it burns the flesh. 

hot shot 

An electrical charge used to make the 
tamest horse buck when ridden by an 
amateur. The points of the charge are 
supposed to hit the horse on the shoul- 
ders. Hot shots are also used in rodeo 

hot stick 

A charged rod used in stockyards to 
prod cattle. 

hot stuff 

A slang name for heated branding 
irons j also a slang expression for some- 
thing good or extraordinary. 


See adobe, big house, bull's manse, 
bunkhouse, casa grande, cook shack, 
dice-house, dive, dog-house, dump, feed- 
bag, feed-rack, feed-trough, grub house, 
headquarters, hooden, jacal, Jones' place, 
mess house, nose-bag, parlor house, ram 
pasture, shack, swallow - and - get - out 
trough, white house. 


Driving a wagon so that the hubs will 
strike gateposts or other objects. 


Baking powder bread with raisins. 

huggin' rawhide 

Sticking to the saddle. 


A slang name for the saddle. 

human fruit 

The body of a man hanging from a 
tree after a lynching. 

humped his tail at the shore end 

Said of man or animal leaving in a 


Spur marks on a horse's sides. 


A homestead, commonly of 1 60 acres. 


See gut shrunk, narrow at the equator, 
Spanish supper. 

hungry loop 

When one throws a rope intent on a 

hung up his saddle 

Said of one who had retired from the 
cattle business, or one too old to ride; 
also a reference to death. 


Western Words 

hung up to dry 

Said of one hanged. 


To sit, or squat upon one's heels. The 
cowboy rarely used a chair ; he saved it 
"for company." 

huntin' a horse 

A common excuse for one's presence 
or absence not easily explained; also a 
frequent alibi for being on another's 
range (Agnes Morley Cleaveland, No 
Life for a Lady [Boston, Houghton Mif- 
flin Company, 1941], 6y). Old man 
Johnson had a pretty daughter and a 
certain Mill Iron puncher used to drop 
by when he thought the old man was 
not at home. One day he was surprised 
to find the old man sitting on the front 

"Have y'u seen a little sorrel mare with 
our brand 'round here?" stammered the 
surprised cowhand with this threadbare 

"Go right on into the parlor; y'u'll 

find 'er a-settin' on the sofa," grinned 
the old man, jerking his head toward 
the front door. That horse-hunter didn't 
fool him. He had been young once him- 

hunting leather 

Catching hold of the saddle horn dur- 
ing a ride. 


What the cowboy calls the songs he 
sings to cattle. They are usually religious 
tunes accompanied with profane words 
and as "hymns" would surely shock the 

All cowboys are not good singers. 
There are many who "couldn't pack a 
tune in a corked jug" and sound as if 
they are "gargHn' their throats with axle 
grease, or givin' the death rattle." An 
old cowhand I knew only as Cut-bank 
used to say, "They lost their voices ex- 
plainin' to so many different judges how 
they'd come to have their brands on 
somebody else's cows." 


"Success is the size 0' the hole a man leaves after he dies''' 

Idaho brain storm 

A twister, a cylindrical sandstorm. 


See couldn't drive nails in a snow 
bank, couldn't teach a settin' hen to 
cluck, don't know sic 'em, full grown 
in body only, needs a wet nurse. 

I'll shoot through the water 
barrel and drown you 

During the old Kansas cow-town days 
full water barrels were placed at con- 
venient places along the street for use 
in case of fire. In those wild times gun 
battles were plentiful and gunfighters 
and innocent bystanders alike ducked be- 
hind these water barrels for safety. More 
than one man got a good wetting by 
having a bullet come through the barrel 
he was hiding behind. From this the 

phrase became a common expression in 
the West as a threat. 

immigrant butter 

Gravy made from bacon grease, flour, 
and water. 

Indian bread 

This was a tasty strip of fatty matter 
starting from the shoulder blade and ex- 
tending backward along the backbone of 
a buffalo. When scalded in hot grease to 
seal it, then smoked, it became a tidbit 
the buffalo hunter used as bread. When 
eaten with lean or dried meat it made 
an excellent sandwich. 

Indian broke 

Said of a horse trained to allow the 
rider to mount from the right, or off 
side, instead of the left, or nigh side. 



Indian haircut 

Said of a scalping. This was one hair- 
cut the cowman tried to avoid. In his 
own words, "It calls for a certain amount 
of hide, and no puncher wants to see his 
hair danglin' from an Injun's belt." 
When the government tried to make 
farmers of the Indians, Charlie Russell 
used to offer the criticism that "an In- 
jun never raised nothin' but hell an' 

Indian pony 

What the old-timers of the Southwest 
called a paint or pinto horse. He was a 
favorite with the Indian because of the 
savage's love of color. 

Indian shod 

Done by cutting a piece of rawhide 
and covering the entire hoof with it, 
fastening it on with thongs. When dry, 
it formed to the foot and made a tough, 
lasting foot protection. 

Indians and Indian Terms 

See beef issue, cuitan, fire-water, folks 
on his mother's side wore moccasins, 
good Indian, grass money, had his hair 
raised, hair lifter, happy hunting ground, 
Indian bread, Indian haircut, Indian 
pony, Indian side of a horse, Indian 
sign, Indian signboard, Indian up, In- 
dian whiskey, lost his hair, lost his top- 
knot, muck-a-muck, navvy, off the reser- 
vation, powwow, send up a smoke, si- 
wash, skookum, skull cracker, smoke 
signal, Supaway John, teepee, voucher, 
wickiup, wigwam, yakima. 

Indian side of a horse 

The right side, because the Indian 
mounts from that side, while the white 
man mounts from the left. 

Indian sign 

Indication that Indians had been in 
the neighborhood. To put the Indian 
sign on someone meant to hex or curse 
him with some kind of witchcraft ; also 
to get him where you want him (W. S. 
Campbell [Stanley Vestal] to R.F.A.). 

Indian signboard 

The bleached shoulder bone of a 
buffalo commonly seen upon the plains 
in the early days. The Indians painted 
messages on these bones. 

Indian up 

To approach without noise. Common- 
ly used with reference to sneaking. 

Indian whiskey 

A cheap whiskey used by early Indian 
traders. Teddy Blue, who claims it was 
invented by Missouri River traders, 
gives the following recipe for making 
it: "Take one barrel of Missouri River 
water, and two gallons of alcohol. Then 
you add two ounces of strychnine to 
make them crazy — because strychnine is 
the greatest stimulant in the world — and 
three plugs of tobacco to make them sick 
— because an Indian wouldn't figure it 
was whiskey unless it made him sick — 
five bars of soap to give it a bead, and 
half-pound of red pepper, and then you 
put in some sage brush and boil it until 
its brown. Strain this into a barrel and 
you've got your Indian whiskey." (E. C. 
Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith, 
We Pointed Them North [New York, 
Farrar & Rinehart, 1939], 14.5.) 


The cowboy's privately owned horse. 

inner circle 

The shorter, or inside, circle on round- 
up, usually ridden by men whose horses 
had not yet become hardened to cow 


See buffalo mange, cattle grubs, grubs, 
heel fly, no-see-ums, pants rats, seam 
squirrels, warbles, wolf. 

in the brush 

On the dodge. Early lawbreakers kept 
many a sheriff "ridin' the hocks off his 
hoss." Frequently they got close enough 
together to "swap lead and then have 
another hoss race." 

in the gate 

A term used in monte. After the shuffle 
and cut, the dealer holds the pack face 
downward, draws off the two bottom 
cards and places them face up on the 
table. This is called the bottom layout. 
Then from the top he draws two cards 
from the top layout. The pack is then 
turned face upward and the card exposed 
is the gate. 


Western Words 

in the shade of the wagon 

Said of one taking life easy. 


Short for a branding iron; also slang 
for a gun. 

ironing him out 

Taking the rough edges off a bucking 

ironing out the humps 

Another expression for the above. This 
became the routine duty on roundup 
when fresh horses were saddled, espe- 
cially in cool weather. On one particular 
roundup when the horses were unusually 

snuffy and riders were being thrown in 
all directions, one cowhand quietly ob- 
served that these riders were "fallin' off 
like wormy apples in a high wind." My 
observations of the cowboy are that no 
matter what the circumstances, he always 
has a comparison both witty and fitting. 


The man handling the branding irons 
at branding time. 


The man who heats and tends to the 
branding irons. 


Poker chips. 


"The wilder the colt, the better the hoss" 


jacal (hah-cahr) 

A hut, a rude habitation, a hovel. 


A horse's clipping together of his front 
and hind legs, sometimes as a part of a 
"straight buck." 


A man who lives among the Mormons, 
follows their way of life, but never joins 
their church. 


An expression signifying either a gen- 
eral smash-up or a perplexing situation 
(Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New 
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 


This word might mean anything from 
a dance or a drinking party to a gun 
fight or a stampede (Philip A. Rollins, 
The Cowboy [New York, Charles Scrib- 
ner's Sons, 1936], 77). 

jam oka 

An occasional name for coffee made 
by combining Java and Mocha. 

javalina (hav-ah-leen'ah) 

A musk hog, native of the brush coun- 
try, said to "look like a ball of hair with 
a butcher-knife run through it." 


Credit. A cowhand who lives on his 
credit until next payday is said to "live 
on his jawbone." 

jaw cracker 

A traveling dentist who goes from 
place to place over the range to relieve 
cowboys of their pain, teeth, and money. 

jerked down 

When a roped steer pulls the horse to 
the ground. 

jerk line 

"A single, continuous rein, starting 
from its fastening at the top of the brake 
handle, extended to and through the 
hand of the driver, who either was astride 
the wheel horse (the near one, if two) 
or was seated on the wagon's front. The 
line continued thence along the long 
file of horses' backs and to the left side 



of the 'lead animal's' bit, without touch- 
ing the bit of any intermediate brute. 
A single, steady pull on the line guided 
this lead animal to the left. Two or more 
short jerks turned it to the right." 
(Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New 
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 

jerk-line string 

A string of horses or mules harnessed 
in single file or in a series of spans, and 
following a well-trained leader con- 
trolled by a jerk-line (Philip A. Rollins, 
The Cowboy [New York, Charles 
Scribner's Sons, 1936], 195). 


Dried beef. From the Mexican Indian 
word charqui (char'kee). The Spanish 
and the Indians first dried buffalo meat 
by cutting it thin and drying it in the 
sun. When dry, it could be ground up 
like meal. When cooked in a soup, it 
swelled to considerable proportions and 
served as a nourishing food. Later the 
white man followed their example, and 
jerky became a staple food. 

jewelry chest 

An outside box on the front of the 
chuck wagon for storing hobbles, extra 
cartridges, and anything else that might 
be needed in a hurry in case of an emer- 


To overrun a horse. 


The ordinary gait of a cow horse, 
averaging about five miles per hour, to 
ride at this gait. 

jinete ( he-nay 'tay) 

Modern Spanish, meaning a rider or 
a horseman. Used in the cattle country in 
referring to a bronc buster, or a man 
who is an excellent rider. 


Another name for the horse wrangler. 


Rounding up' the horse herd. 


An earmark, a deep slit that leaves the 
lower half of the ear flapping down, one 

of the most hideous ever devised. This 
mark was made famous by John Chisum, 
a pioneer rancher of Lincoln County, 
New Mexico. Also the little pear-shaped 
pendants hanging loosely from the axle 
of a spur rowel, whose usefulness is re- 
stricted solely to making a music the 
cowboy loves to hear. 

Jingle your spurs! 

Get a move on, hurry up! 

Job's comforter 

The cowman's name for a boil. 

John B. 

Cowboy's hat, named thus after its 
maker, John B. Stetson. The cowman 
takes pride in the age of his Stetson. As 
one writer said, "A Stetson will take on 
weight with age and get to the point 
where you can smell it across the room, 
but you can't wear it out." The big Stet- 
son is just as much a part of the cowboy 
as his hands and feet. 

John Chinaman 

What the cowboy calls boiled rice. 

John Henry 

What the cowboy calls his signature. 
He never signs a document, but puts his 
John Henry to it. 

John Law 

The frontier name for any law officer. 


A tenderfoot, one new to the country. 

Jones' place 

The cowboy's reference to a line- 
camp ; also a privy; sometimes used in 
reference to a honkytonk. 

Judas steer 

One used at slaughterhouses and so 
trained that he leads other cattle to 
slaughter. He is then returned to lead 

jug handle 

A mark of ownership made by cutting 
a long slash in the skin of the brisket, not 
cutting out at either end, a mark which, 
when healed, looks similar to the handle 
of a jug. 


A horse which lacks intelligence and 


Western Words 

has to be pulled around considerably be- 
fore he is made to understand what is 
wanted of him. 


A trick-roping term, being a body spin 
which repeatedly raises and lowers the 
noose from the ground to the limit of the 
operator's reach above his head. 


To come upon suddenly, as, "He 
jumped a brand burner at the edge of the 
range"; to take possession unlawfully, 
as, "to jump a claim." 


The western equivalent of hayseed,. 

Junin' 'round 


junta (hoon'tah) 

Spanish, meaning a congress, an as- 


sembly, or a council, and used by the 
cowman in referring to a business meet- 

just a ball of hair 

Said of a very thin cow or calf. 


Any cowman knows that this word is 
synonymous with good cowboy boots. 
From the day in 1879 when Joe Justin 
settled at Old Spanish Fort on the Texas 
side of Red River and made his first pair 
of boots, down through the years to the 
present modern factory in Fort Worth, 
Texas, run by his three sons, Justin's has 
set the style in cowboy boots. A few men 
have left their names to enrich perma- 
nently the vocabulary of the Westerner 
through the excellence and popularity of 
a necessary product. Among these are 
Colt, Stetson, Levi, and Justin. Even 
Easterners by now know what these 
names represent. 


"Kickm' never gets you nowhere, Hess'n you're a mule" 


A slang name for a saddle. 


A settler who raises kaffir corn, a 
farmer, any settler or nester. 

Kansas City fish 

Fried salt pork. 

Kansas neck-blister 

A bowie knife. 

keeping cases 

An expression used in faro. It means 
keeping a record of the cards as they 
are drawn from the faro box. The term 
soon became synonymous with the word 
watch. Therefore, to keep cases on any- 
one is to watch him. 

keeping up the corners 

In the old trail days this meant keep- 
ing the stronger cattle in the herd mov- 

ing in such a way as not to impede the 
progress of any others, seeing that the 
rear of the column was no wider than 
the swing — that part between the lead- 
ers and the drags — or the cattle would 
become overheated, and seeing that the 
herd did not become spaced so that the 
marching column became too long. 

keep your moccasins greased 

This expression originated with the 
trappers and hunters and meant to step 
softly when stalking game. Later it was 
adopted by the cowman and used in the 
sense of to go easy. 


This name is known throughout the 
cattle country for hand-forged bits and 
spurs made by P. M. Kelly & Sons, of El 
Paso, Texas. As a school boy at Childress, 
Texas, the elder Kelly spent his spare 
time at ranch headquarters listening to 



the cowboys' criticisms of the bits and 
spurs then in vogue, and determined to 
make some which would be "just right." 
With limited tools and the aid of a 
younger sister, he began making these 
riding tools by hand, selling them direct 
to the cowboys as fast as he could make 
them. From this start his business grew 
until his name became synonymous with 
good bits and spurs throughout cattle 


This word came from the gambling 
game, keno, and the cowman uses it to 
mean everything is all right. The con- 
clusion of any act might evoke the ex- 
clamation, "Keno!" 

kept his branding iron smooth 

Said of a rustler when he worked 
overtime. A branding iron must be 
smooth and free from rust and scale to 
give satisfaction. 

kept the double-doors swingin' 

Said of an habitue of the saloons. 

ketch dog 

A dog trained and used to catch cattle 
by the nose and hold or throw them until 
they can be tied, or to worry a steer until 
a puncher gets there with his rope. 

ketch hand 

One whose duty it is to rope calves for 

Ketch my saddle! 

The sure cry of a cowboy who has been 
thrown and whose mount is running 
away with his saddle. The horse belongs 
to the company, but the saddle is his own 
private and highly prized property. 

ketch rope 

What the cowboy calls his lariat to 
distinguish it from other ropes. 


Synonymous with bucking. 



kick-back rider 

One, who, in riding a bucking horse, 
spurs high behind. He often comes to 

grief, because in spurring too high, he 
loses his knee grip. 

kicked into a funeral procession 

Said of one killed by a kicking horse. 


See kick like a bay steer, kicked into 
a funeral procession, let out. 

kick like a bay steer 

A common Texas saying meaning to 
kick vigorously or to complain bitterly. 
The cowhand rarely complains, for it is 
his philosophy that "kickin' never gets 
you nowhere, 'less'n you're a mule." 

kick the frost out 

To unlimber a horse. 

kick the lid off 

To start bucking, to start any violent 

kidney pad 

The contemptuous name the cowboy 
gave the little riding saddle used by an 
Easterner. Also called kidney flaster. 

kidney shot 

To shoot an animal in the region of 
the kidneys. 


See bed him down, beefing, bit the 
dust, blow out his lamp, buck out, buck 
out in smoke, bushwhack, case of slow, 
credits, curled him up, dabble in gore, 
'dobe wall, downed, dry gulch, hang 
up his hide, hired killer, land in a shal- 
low grave, made wolf meat, man for 
breakfast, Mexicans don't count, Pecos, 
put windows in his skull, sawdust in his 
beard, slow elk, stand, strapped on his 
horse, toes down. 


A vicious horse; also a badman. Most 
of the professional gunmen were looked 
upon as killers because their guns were 
for hire. 

killpecker guard 

The period of herding from sundown 
until 8 p.m. is called this in some sec- 

kip pile 

Buffalo skinners sorted and graded 


Western Words 

hides into different piles, the bulls in one 
pile, the cows in another, and the young- 
er animals into a third known as the 
kif file. 

kissed the ground 

Said of one thrown from a bucking 

knee grip 

The clamping of a rider's knees 
against a horse when riding. This is an 
important asset in riding a bad horse, 
but he can not be ridden by knee grip 
alone. The feet should be braced for- 
ward, and out against the stirrups, to 
catch the rider's weight when the horse 
lands, thus enabling him to balance for 
the next jump. 


Splitting the hide on a wild steer about 
an inch and a half between the knee and 
.ankle on one foreleg and cutting a small 
tendon or leader. When the steer is turned 
loose, he can walk, but his running days 
are over. 


See Arkansas toothpick, Kansas neck- 
blister, skinning knife. 


' A nickname for a mule. 


A cowboy who never attains skill in 
his work ; also an unintelligent horse. 


See basket hitch, diamond hitch, Mor- 
mon tangle, squaw hitch. 


See cow savvy, no medicine, quien 
sabe, savvy. 

knows how to die standin' up 

Said of one with courage, one unafraid 
in a fight. 


Packsaddle. Kyacks might be described 
as hollow containers, one on each side 
of the horse, each of sufficient capacity 
to hold the equal of two five-gallon oil 
cans placed side by side. 


'A loose boss is always lookvrt for new pastures" 

laced his tree up 

An expression sometimes used when 
the cowboy speaks of saddling. I re- 
member Octillo Crane's telling me of his 
trying to ride a particularly vicious 
horse. He described the attempt in this 
manner : "I had trouble gettin' my wood 
on 'im, and when I did get my tree laced 
up, it didn't do me much good, 'cause 
I didn't get settled 'fore I goes sailin' off, 
flyin' low and usin' my face for a rough- 
lock till I'd lost 'nough hide to make a 
pair o' leggin's." 

ladinos (lah-dee'nos) 

Outlaw cattle of the brush country. 
The Spanish word means crafty or saga- 
cious. The term is often applied to any 

vicious animal. 

lady broke 

Said of a horse when he is thoroughly 

lamb licker 

The cowboy's contemptuous name for 
a sheepherder, taken from the ewe's 
habit of licking a new-born lamb. 

lamp oil 

A slang name for whiskey. 


Thrown from a horse. 

landed fork end up 

Thrown from a horse head first. 

landed on his sombrero 

Thrown from a horse head first. 



land in a shallow grave 

To be killed and buried without cere- 
mony, to be killed out on the plains far 
from any settlement where graves can 
be dug properly. Many cowboys were 
buried thus when death resulted from 
stampedes, lightning, drowning, gun 
fights, and falling horses. 


A term expressive of the action of an 
untrained helper. Through inexperience 
he will get on the side of the cattle oppo- 
site you to assist you in turning them. 
However, the two of you then form a 
lane which keeps the animals from turn- 
ing. A man of experience comes up from 
behind and on the same side as the person 
he is assisting. (Duff Green to R.F.A.). 


See hefty, slew. 


Originally a rope used in picketing 
animals, especially when made of horse- 
hair. Sometimes a lariat is made of grass, 
and of course is often used for any pur- 
pose for which a rope is needed. The 
term is often used in the Southwest, but 
the word rofe is used in the Northwest. 
The name is a contraction of the Spanish 
la reata ( lah-ray-ah f tah) , the literal 
meaning of which may be expressed as 
the tie back. The rope may also be called 
a reata or a riata. Lariat may be used as 
a verb, as to fasten or to catch with a 
lariat, but reata is never used as a verb. 
Californians do not like the word lariat 
— they use either reata or lass rofe. 


Another name for molasses; also (as 
verb) to strike, to thrash. 

larrupin' truck 

"Great stuff." 


A man who helps the driver of a 
string team by using the whip, handling 
the brakes, and helping with the swear- 

lash rope 

A rope used to fasten packs on a pack- 


A long line, usually made of hide, 
with a running noose. Mexicans intro- 
duced this name to the cow range, al- 
though the word is not of Spanish origin, 
but comes from the Portuguese laco, 
which has a meaning equivalent to snare. 
As in the case of lariat, it is used as a 
verb, meaning to lasso. The word is rare- 
ly used by cowmen, the term rofe being 
preferred. Stockmen of the Pacific coast 
are the only ones using lasso to any ex- 

lass rope 

A slang name for rope. 

last roundup 

A reference to death. 

last year's bronc 

A horse in his second season of work. 

latigo (lah'te-go) 

Spanish, meaning the end of every 
strap which must be fassed through a 
buckle. A long leather strap, used to 
fasten the saddle on, which is passed suc- 
cessively through the cinch ring and the 
rigging ring and tied much in the man- 
ner of a four-in-hand tie. 


A sheriff or deputy. 

law wrangler 

Frequently used title for a lawyer. 
The average cowman has little use for 
lawyers although he admires their learn- 
ing. One cowhand referred to a certain 
attorney as "the smartest law-giver since 


A chance throw with a rope, the cow- 
boy's bed, the name sometimes given a 
ranch or outfit. 

lay 'em down 

Said when a cowman dies; also when 
a player lays his cards on the table in a 
poker game. 

lay for 

To lie in wait for, to ambush. 

layin' down his character 

Said of one playing a deuce-spot in a 
card game. I heard one cowhand telling 


Western Words 

another of a game which he quit as a 
loser, and he finished by saying, "I tried 
all night to get somethin' higher than a 
two-spot." Another loser said that when 
he started the game he had " 'nough 
money to be called 'Mister,' but the 
trouble was I was jes' called — too many 


A frequently used name for a ranch, 
its employees, and equipment; also one's 
personal equipment. 


A voluntary stopping, during a drive, 
at ranches or in town. 

lay the dust 

To take a drink; also used in describ- 
ing a light sprinkle of rain. 


A compulsory stopping of a drive. 

lazy brand 

One in which a letter or figure is lying 
on its side. 

lead chucker 

A slang name for a gun. 

lead drive men 

Men, chosen for their knowledge of 
the country, to make the circle drive on 
roundup. While other riders drop off at 
intervals to comb a given territory for 
cattle, the lead men ride on to complete 
the circle and drive in the cattle from 
the farthest edges. 

lead man 

Point rider of a trail herd. At the ex- 
treme forward tip of the moving column 
rode the two lead men, one on each side, 
called the point. This was the honored 
post of the cattle drive and the station of 
greatest responsibility, since it was these 
men who must determine the exact direc- 
tion to be taken. See foint riders. 

lead plum 

A bullet. 

lead poisoned 

Said of one who has been shot. 

lead pusher 

Another of the many names for a gun. 

lead rope 

A short rope used to lead a horse. 

lead span 

The lead team of a vehicle drawn by 
more than one team. 

lead steer 

A steer, who, by his aggressiveness 
and stamina, takes his place at the head 
of the trail herd and retains his leader- 
ship to the end of the trail. He is invalu- 
able to the drover and, as an individual, 
is always honored with a name. There 
have been many stories written about fa- 
mous lead steers; for example, those 
written by J. Frank Dobie, J. Evetts 
Haley, Jack Potter, and others ; and these 
stories always move the heart of a real 
cowman. To him these steers are more 
than mere bovines. 

leaky mouth 

Said of one who talks too much. When 
two such men get together, Dick Blocker 
said they "jes' jabber at each other like 
a couple o' honkers on a new feed 

leaned against a bullet goin' past 

An expression denoting that the one 
spoken of was shot. 

lean forward and shove 

To get out of the way in a hurry. 

leather pounder 

A slang name for the cowboy. 

leather slapper 

A gunman. 

leather slapping 

The act of drawing a gun and shoot- 

leavin' Cheyenne 

Going away. This expression is taken 
from the cowboy song "Goodbye, Old 
Paint, Pm Leavin' Cheyenne," a song 
usually used as a finale at a dance, much 
in the way that "Home Sweet Home" is 
used in other sections of the country. 

leg bail 

When a prisoner escapes from jail, he 
is said to take leg bail. 



leggin' case 

The punishment, imposed by a cow- 
boy's kangaroo court, consisting of a 
lashing with a pair of leggin's or chaps. 


What the Southwest Texan calls chaps. 
He rarely uses the latter word. 

leg jockey 

The flat leather plate or flap over- 
lying the stirrup leather where the stir- 
rup leather issues from the side of the 
saddle. See seat jockey. 


A green hand. 


Orphan calf. 

let out 

To kick. When a horse kicks, he is said 
to. let out. 

let the hammer down 

To take the rough edges off a horse. 

Levis (Lee- vies') 

Overalls. This is perhaps the best- 
known first name of a man in the West. 
Only a "greener" would have to be told 
that Levis are overalls, called this from 
the name of Levi Strauss, of San Francis- 
co, the pioneer overall manufacturer of 
the West. Since their introduction in 
1850, practically all cowboys have worn 
them because they are stout and comfort- 
able. They are not to be confused with 
the bib overalls that farmers wear. A 
cowhand would not be caught in a pair 
of these. Levis are made just like a pair 
of pants except that they have many cop- 
per rivets to reinforce seams and pockets. 
The cowboy wears them with turned- 
up cuffs, and when shoeing his horse, 
these cuffs serve as a handy repository 
for extra horseshoe nails. 


The cowboy's name for molasses. 




To dismount. 

light a shuck 

To leave in a hurry, a quick depart- 
ure. "In the early days, corn was carried 
as the principal food for man and beast. 
It was carried unshucked in the wagon 
beds. Selected shucks were placed at con- 
venient places by all fires. On leaving 
one campfire to go to another, a man 
was usually blinded by the light of the 
fire he was just leaving. On turning his 
back to the fire, he found the surround- 
ing woods pitch dark. To penetrate this 
blackness and give his eyes a chance to 
accustom themselves to it, so as not to 
fall over dead limbs, brush, and briars, 
the departing guest would light the tip 
of one of the whole corn shucks in the fire 
and lift it high above his head. The bright 
blaze would last for a matter of only a 
minute or so, just enough time to get 
well beyond the blinding light of the 
fire. Consequently, when a departing 
guest lit his shuck, he had to leave in- 
stantly or its light would be wasted. So, 
'he lit a shuck and left'." (Frank Ryan, 
"On the Jefferson Road," Texian Stomp- 
ing Ground [Austin, Texas, Folklore 
Publications, No. XVII, 1941], 9—10.) 

light rider 

One of those men who keep in balance 
upon and with the horse and can ride 
long distances without retightening the 
cinches or galling the horse's back, no 
matter how much their weight. 

Like a steer, I can try. 

This cowboy saying is applicable to 
many forms of conduct. It originated 
from the fact that the steer, like an old 
man, no matter how impotent, never 
loses his interest in the female ; and when 
steers are brought together they will try 
to mount, or "ride," each other, no mat- 
ter how fruitless their efforts. (J. Frank 
Dobie, The Longhorns [Boston, Little, 
Brown, 1941], 181.) 

limb skinner 

An appropriate name for a brush hand, 
but his limbs are the ones that get skinned. 


A slang name for rope. 


An animal with a stripe of a different 


Western Words 

color from the rest of its body running 
down its back. 

line breeding 

The breeding of cattle of the same 


An outpost cabin or dugout, upon a 
large ranch, to house line riders. See 
boar's nest. 

line rider 

A man who patrols a prescribed boun- 
dary to look after the interests of his 
employer. It is a hard, monotonous job, 
yet more interesting than fence riding, 
for he can ride a new route each day. 
While the fence rider looks primarily 
for breaks in the fence, the line rider 
looks for everything, including the con- 
dition of the watering places and the 
grazing lands. He pushes strays of his 
brand back on the range and drives off 
of it those which do not belong. The 
worse the weather the more he has to 
ride. Drifting cattle have to be thrown 
back into the brakes, holes have to be 
chopped in frozen watering places, and 
weak stock have to be tended. 

It is a lonely job, and the line rider 
works long hours. He does his own cook- 
ing and has no one to talk to except his 
horses. He has no cheerful campfire to 
get up by on cold mornings, and he will 
smell no appetizing odors of fried meat 
and coffee until he builds a fire on the 
cold ashes of his little cookstove and 
cooks for himself. Sometimes two men 
are placed in camp, and although they 
spend the day riding in opposite direc- 
tions, the job is not so lonely because 
they can keep each other company at 

Perhaps the thing uppermost in the 
thoughts of this rider is the day when 
he can return to headquarters and hear 
a real cook yell, "Come an' get it." (J. 
Frank Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush- 
Country [Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 
149—50; John M. Hendrix, "Batchin' 
Camp," Cattleman, XX, No. 2 [July 2, 
x 934]> 5; Philip A. Rollins, The Cow- 
boy [New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
1936], 206.) 

lining his flue 

Said of one eating-. 


The cowboy's name for a cotton picker. 

little feller 

A cattleman with small holdings. 

Little Mary 

A nickname the old-time trail man 
frequently gave to the drivers of the calf 

live dictionary 

A school teacher, a talkative woman. 
One who, as Jug Jeter would say, "was 
shore in the lead when tongues was give 
out." Jug did not have much use for 
women, and he got his name because it 
was said that he "never went to town 
till his jug needed fillin'." 

livin' lightnin' 

Said of a bucking horse of ability. 


A sled made of the fork of a tree sup- 
ported by standards. 

lizard scorcher 

A camp stove. 


A slang name for the horn of the 

llano (lyah'no) 

Prairie, a flat, open plain without 


To deceive by tall tales, to lie. 

load of hay on his skull 

Said of a long-haired man. 


See calf 'round, in the shade of the 
wagon, on the drift, pirooting, shadin', 


A gray wolf, sometimes called a loafer. 

lobo stripe 

The white, yellow, or brown stripe 
running down the back, from neck to 
tail, of a line-back animal, a character- 
istic of many Spanish cattle. 


To herd cattle on new range until they 
feel at home. 



locked spurs 

Spurs whose rowels have been fastened 
with a string or horsehair so that they 
will not move. When these spurs are held 
firmly in the cinch, it is next to impos- 
sible for a horse to unseat its rider, and 
their use is barred at all rodeos. When 
not locked, spurs do not assist the rider 
in staying on; on the contrary, they act 
in the manner of ball bearings to throw 

lock horns 

To engage in an argument or fight 
with another. Very commonly male ani- 
mals of the plains, during fights, get 
their horns locked together, and, being 
unable to free themselves, remain in this 
state until they starve to death. 


In reference to stock, it means the re- 
sult of feeding upon the toxic loco weed. 
In reference to, humans, it means that the 
person called this is foolish, absurd, or 
crazy. The word is Spanish, meaning 
mad,, crazy, or stupid. 


Riding out of the chute at a rodeo 
with the hand, or hands, gripping the 
saddle horn. 


Tying a horse to a log. Since a log will 
move, this method of staking allows the 
horse more freedom and eliminates the 
danger of entanglements from more 
rigid staking. 

lone ranger 

A nickname for an unmarried man. 


Living alone, avoiding companionship 
of others. 


To place a silk neckerchief on hard 
ground and listen by putting the ear 
upon it. Old plainsmen often followed 
this practice, and sounds otherwise in- 
audible are somehow magnified by this 
means. From this practice originated the 
saying, "Keep your ear to the ground," 
meaning to use caution, to go slowly, and 
listen frequently. 

long-eared chuck wagon 

A humorous name for the mules which 
pack the provisions when these animals 
have to be used instead of wagons in 
rough country. 

long-haired partner 

What the cowman sometimes calls his 


A slang name for the men of the early 
West who wore their hair long. 


A name given early cattle of Texas, 
because of the enormous spread of their 
horns ; also the name for native men of 
Texas, the home of the longhorn cattle. 
The saga of the longhorn is interesting, 
and for a valuable and the only complete 
study of this historic bovine, I recom- 
mend The Longhorns, by an able re- 
corder of the West, J. Frank Dobie (Bos- 
ton, Little, Brown, 1941). 

long horse 

One which can travel great distances 
at high speed. 

long-line skinner 

A driver of two or more teams. 

long rider 

Another name for an outlaw. This 
name was given because he often had to 
ride long distances, or spend long hours 
in the saddle, to escape capture. 

long rope 

A slang name for a cattle thief. 

long sweetenin' 

Slang name for molasses. 

long Tom 

What the buffalo hunter frequently 
called his long rifle. 

long trail 

A reference to death. 

long yearlin' 

A calf eighteen months old or older. 

lookin' at a mule's tail 

Plowing. The cowhand despises any 
work which can not be done on horseback. 
The sentiment of the whole tribe was ex- 


Western Words 

pressed by the one who said that he 
"wouldn't be caught on the blister end 
of no damned shovel." 

lookin' down the neck of a bottle 

Said of one drinking whiskey from 
a bottle. 

lookin' for a dog to kick 


lookin' for someone 

An expression meaning that one is 
seeking an enemy to down. 

lookin' over his shoulder 

Said of one on the dodge. One cow- 
man expressed his philosophy to me with, 
"A man that looks over his shoulder at 
every piece o' straight road ain't leadin' 
a straight life." Looking over one's 
shoulder is breaking a strict code of range 
etiquette followed by honest men. When 
two riders meet on the trail, speak, and 
pass on, it is a violation of this code for 
either to look back. Such an act is inter- 
preted as an expression of distrust, as 
though one feared a shot in the back. 

lookin' through cottonwood 

Said of one hanged. 

lookin' up a limb 

Another expression meaning hanged. 

Look out, cowboy! 

When this cry goes up in a corral full 
of burned cattle, it is no disgrace to run. 


When a cowman goes on an inspection 
tour or rides off to investigate anything, 
he refers to the act as going to take a 
look-see. The single word look is rarely 

loose herd 

To let cattle scatter somewhat, yet 
herd them. 

lost his hair 

Said of one scalped by Indians. 

lost his hat and got off to look 
for it 

Often said when one is thrown from 
a horse. An alibi which, of course, no 
one believes. 

lost his horse 

Said when a rider is thrown. 

lost his topknot 


low-necked clothes 

The cowboy's very best garments, 
which he wears on special occasions. 
Tonto Sutton described a cowboy who 
attended a dance as "all spraddled out 
in his low-necked clothes," and, "He 
showed up public as a zebra, wearin' a 
b'iled shirt and smellin' of bear grease 
and lavender-flavored soap, lookin' as 
miserable as a razorback hog stroppin' 
hisself on a fencepost." 


See he'll do to ride the river with, 
measured a full sixteen hands high, 
square, stand by. 

lump oil 

Coal oil or kerosene. 


One suffering from tuberculosis who 
came west in search of health. Smoky 
Saddler described one with, "His lungs 
wasn't stronger than a hummin' bird's 
and he didn't have 'nough wind to blow 
out a lamp." 

lynchin' bee 

A hanging. 




"A cow outfit's never better than its bosses" 


A male parasite who makes his living 
pimping for some woman of the red- 
light districts of the cow towns. 

machinery belting 

Tough beef. 

made a nine in his tail 

Said of man or beast leaving in a 
hurry. When a cow runs from fright, she 
often lifts her tail in the shape of the 
figure nine, or at least in the shape of 
the figure the cowman uses in most "nine" 
brands; hence the saying. 

made of the same leather 

Said of men having the same disposi- 
tions, ideas, and tastes. According to one 
cowhand, they are "close 'nough to use 
the same toothpick." 

made wolf meat 

An expression of the early trappers, 
meaning to kill a man and leave him on 
the prairie for the wolves to eat; later 
adopted by the cowman. 

mad scramble 

A rodeo finale when fifteen or more 
Brahma bulls, steers, and mules, with 
cowboys astride each animal, rush into 
the arena in all directions from the chutes. 


Cowboy's name for sheep. 

maguey (mah-gay' or McGay) 

The century plant. The cowman uses 
the word to mean a four-strand rope of 
a scant three-eighths inch in diameter 
made from the fiber of this plant. It is 
a hard rope that throws easily and holds 
a wide loop. This is the rope used by 
trick ropers in making their fancy catches. 
In cow work it has its disadvantages, as 
it becomes very stiff in wet weather and 
breaks easily when tied hard and fast. 
It holds better when a dally is used. 

mail-order catalog on foot 

Said of a tenderfoot dressed in range 
clothes in an exaggerated manner. 

mail-order cowboy 

A tenderfoot, devoid of range experi- 
ence, in custom-made cowboy regalia. 
The average mail-order cowboy "looks 
like he was raised on the Brooklyn 

make medicine 

To hold a conference, to plan some 

makin' a hand 

A man is said to be making a hand — 
and this is a high compliment — when he 
can live up to the exacting code of the 
calling. This code calls for courage and 
loyalty, uncomplaining cheerfulness and 
laughter at dangers and hardships, lack 
of curiosity regarding another's past, and 
respect for womanhood. These, together 
with the embodiment of many other 
codes, constitute a religion that the cow- 
boy lives up to if he makes a hand. 

makin' far apart tracks 

Running at speed on foot. 

makin' hair bridles 

Synonymous with being in the peni- 
tentiary. Most cowboys who were sent 
to prison spent their time making these 
bridles because the work seemed to bring 
them closer to a horse. Some of them have 
turned out masterpieces. 

In typical cowboy language, Charlie 
Russell wrote a letter to a friend con- 
cerning a mutual acquaintance, saying: 
"Charley Cugar quit punchin' and went 
into the cow business for himself. His 
start was a couple o' cows and a work 
bull. Each cow had six to eight calves a 
year. People didn't say much till the bull 
got to havin' calves, and then they made 
it so disagreeable that Charley quit the 
business and is now makin' hoss-hair 
bridles. They say he hasn't changed much, 


Western Words 

but wears his hair very short and dresses 
awfully loud." (Charles M. Russell, 
Good Medicine [Garden City, Double- 
day, Doran, 1930], 107.) 


Cigarette material. The old-time cow- 
boy never smoked any cigarettes other 
than the ones he rolled himself from his 
makin's. If he ran out of makin's when 
he was situated where he could not buy 
more, he asked another rider for them 
and they were never refused, unless the 
refusal was an intentional insult. 

makin' shavetails 

An expression used by cowboys of the 
Northwest for breaking horses. See 
shavetails and tail fulling. 

makin' the town smoky 

Said of one shooting up a town or 
raising hell generally. 

maleta (mah-lay'tah) 

A bag made of rawhide ; also a satchel. 

mal pais (mahl pah-ees') 

A Spanish term meaning bad country. 
The term is applied to the lava mesas of 
the Southwest. 

manada (mah-nah'dah) 

A Spanish feminine noun meaning a 
herd of mares, more especially brood 
mares. The verb manar means to spring 
from, to issue. (Don, "Vaquero Lingo," 
Western Horseman, II, No. 5 [Septem- 
ber—October, 1937], 11.) 

mafiana (mahn-yahn'ah) 

Spanish for tomorrow ; sometime, per- 
haps never. The word is used freely by 
Americans along the Mexican border in 
association with a leisurely postpone- 
ment. (Harold W. Bentley, Dictionary 
of Spanish Terms in English [New York, 
Columbia University Press, 1932], 161.) 

man at the pot 

If a man in camp, during meals, gets 
up to refill his cup with coffee and this 
is yelled at him, he is duty-bound by 
camp etiquette to go around with the 
pot and fill all the cups that are held 
out to him. 

man for breakfast 

Said of a killing. This saying origin- 

ated in frontier days when there were 
so many killings at night in the tough 
cow towns and mining camps that when 
the good citizens awoke the next morn- 
ing, they could see the body or bodies 
of the victims laid out before breakfast. 

mangana (man-gah'nah) 

A Spanish word meaning lasso, a 
sleeve, net, or trap. It is a throw which 
catches the animal by the forefeet and 
has come to mean forefooting. This 
throw is made by pointing the hand 
downward, dragging the loop forward 
and swinging it out so that it practically 
stands on edge. This throw stands a big 
loop in front of the animal, so that all 
he has to do is step into it. It is a loop 
which needs perfect timing to be suc- 
cessful, as it will cause an animal to stop 
rather than hit it, if it is stood too far 
ahead of him. The throw is reserved for 
horses and seldom used on cattle. (W. 
M. French, "Ropes and Roping," Cattle- 
man, XXVI, No. 12 [May, 1940], 17- 

mangana de pie (man-gah'nah 
day pe-ay') 

Pie means foot, hence this is a throw 
with the foot. Being a fancy throw, it is 
rarely used in actual work. It is made 
by putting a well-opened loop on the 
ground with the toe beneath the honda, 
and as the animal to be roped goes by, 
the loop is pitched straight forward with 
the foot. 

maniac den 

The cowboy's name for a sheep wagon 
or camp. The cowman feels that a sheep- 
herder is more or less crazy or he would 
not be herding sheep, and for the dis- 
orderly arrangement of his camp, den is 
a fitting word. 


A rope of Manila. Most of the ropes 
sold and used in the ranch country are 
made of Manila fiber, of three-strand 
construction, and laid extra hard for 
strength and smoothness. 


A vicious horse. 


A slang name for a gun. 



map of Mexico 

The American cowboy's name for the 
intricate cattle brands of the Mexicans, 
which usually are large and give no clue 
to any name by which they can be called. 


The cutting of an animal's ears or 
other parts of the skin. Each kind of 
mark has a name and is registered along 
with the owner's brand. Used both as a 
noun and a verb. 


An animal with distinct coloration or 
other marks easily distinguished and re- 
membered by the owner and his riders. 
Such an animal has frequently been the 
downfall of the rustler. The word also 
means a man who cuts the earmarks on 
cattle at branding time. 


See draggin' her rope, dropped his 
rope on her, trap a squaw. 


A strap from bridle to girth, passing 
between the horse's forelegs. It is in- 
tended to hold the horse's head down 
and thus keep him from rearing. 


As a noun, it means an unbranded ani- 
mal of unknown ownership; as a verb, 
it means to brand such an animal with 
one's own brand. 

Many and varied stories are told con- 
cerning the origin of the use of this word 
(See J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns 
[Boston, Little, Brown, 1941], 44—45). 
Some of the stories have even gone so 
far as to brand Mr. Maverick a thief, 
and nothing could be farther from the 
truth. He was a useful, prominent, and 
honorable citizen, a lawyer and one of 
the signers of the Texas Declaration of 
Independence. He never made any claims 
to being a cattleman. In fact, his ignor- 
ance regarding cattle was responsible 
for his leaving such a colorful addition 
to our language. Here is what is appar- 
ently the true story of the term. 

The term is derived from the name of 
Samuel A. Maverick, who, as a lawyer, 
took over a bunch of cattle for a debt 
before the Civil War and placed them 

in charge of a Negro on the San Antonio 
River about fifty miles south of San An- 
tonio, Texas. The Negro, being both 
ignorant of cattle and shiftless, failed to 
brand the increase of the herd and let 
them wander far and wide. In 1855 
Maverick sold his entire outfit — brand, 
range, and all — to Toutant de Beaure- 
gard, a neighbor stockman. According to 
the terms of the deal, Beauregard, in 
addition to the number of cattle present 
and actually transferred in the trade, 
was to have all the others that he could 
find on Maverick's range, both branded 
and unbranded. Beauregard, being a 
thrifty man, instituted a systematic 
roundup, and whenever his riders found 
an unbranded animal, they claimed it to 
be a Maverick, put Beauregard's brand 
on it, and drove it in. These riders took 
in so much territory, at a time when the 
prairies were full of unbranded cattle, 
that the news began to spread. From 
these circumstances the term maverick 
was applied to unbranded range cattle. 
The term spread over the entire cattle 
country and gained such common usage 
that it found its way into the dictionary. 
(Prose and, Poetry of the Cattle Indus- 
try [Denver, 1905]; George M. Mav- 
erick [son of Samuel A. Maverick], St. 
Louis Refublic, November 16, 1889.) 

The term is also now used in speaking 
of a human who does not mix with others, 
or one who holds himself aloof from a 

maverick brand 

An unrecorded brand. A thief can 
easily hold an animal on the range with 
one of these unrecorded brands until he 
is able to drive it off. In case suspicion 
is aroused, there are no records to. con- 
nect him with the theft. 


A man who rode the ranges in the early 
days to hunt and brand mavericks. In 
the beginning this practice of roping and 
branding any calf which was not at the 
time following its mother was not con- 
sidered stealing, but legitimate thriftiness. 
Calves of this kind were considered any- 
one's cattle. Many ranchers, who would 
not condone theft in any form, sent their 
cowboys out "to do a little mavericking" 
at so much per head. 


Western Words 

When the cowboy saw how easy it 
was to build up a herd for his boss, he 
began wondering why it would not be 
just as legitimate and a lot more profit- 
able to himself to maverick on his own 
hook. Not until then did ranch owners 
decide it was stealing and caused laws 
to be passed against it. After this mav- 
ericker was but another name for a cow 

maverick factory 

Said of the rustler's making mavericks 
by killing the mother with her tell-tale 


The act of hunting down and brand- 
ing unbranded calves. It became a syn- 
onym for stealing. 

mealy nose 

A cow or steer of the longhorn type 
with lines and dots of a color lighter 
than the rest of its body around the eyes, 
face, and nose. Such an animal is said 
to be mealy nosed,. 


See cultus, raised on sour milk, snake 
blood, snake eyes, snaky, tough lay, wool 
in his teeth. 

measured a full sixteen hands 

The appraisement of a man's worth, 
and a high compliment to his ability and 

meat in the pot 

Slang name for a rifle, because this 
weapon is used by the hunter to secure 
meat for the camp. 

mecate (may-cah'tay) 

Americanized to the familiar McCarty, 
meaning a hair, or maguey, rope used 
as saddle reins with a hackamore, or as 
a tie or lead rope. Because a hair rope 
for this purpose has long been traditional, 
there has developed a tendency to call 
all hair ropes mecates. A hair rope is 
never used as a reata. It kinks too easily 
and is too light to throw. 


See eyeballer, feedin' off his range, 
hornin' in, Paul Pry, wedgers in. 

medicine tongue 

Fluent talk, wordiness. 

medicine wolf 

Slang name for a coyote. 


See junta, make medicine, powwow. 


(other than stockmen) See Arizona 
tenor, arriero, badlander, badman, 
batch, blacksmithing, blue-belly, bone 
picker, breed, buckboard driver, buck- 
nun, buffalo skinner, buffalo soldier, 
bullwhacker, can't whistle, capper, 
chuck-eater, claim jumper, coffee cooler, 
converter, desert rat, ditch rider, duffer, 
fence cutter, forty-niner, four-up driv- 
er, freak, free ranger, great seizer, 
grissel-heel, gunman, hair pounder, 
hard-winter bunch, headlight to a snow 
storm, hill rat, hombre, home-sucker, 
hoof-shaper, Jack Mormon, jaw cracker, 
John Law, lasher, lawdog, law wrangler, 
load of hay on his skull, long hairs, long- 
line skinner, long rider, lunger, mac, 
messenger, mover, mulero, mustanger, 
mustangler, pearl diver, phildoodle, 
pocket hunter, posse, raised on prunes 
and proverbs, redcoats, remittance man, 
river sniper, rolls his own hoop, roust- 
about, saddler, sagebr usher, sagebrush 
philosopher, sage rat, sand cutter, savage, 
sin-buster, skinner, sky-pilot, sloper, 
snow bird, squatter, squawman, star- 
toter, stiff man, stinker, swamper, swivel 
dude, tiger, tumbleweed, two-gun man, 
two-up driver, vigilantes, wagon herder, 
wisdom bringer, wolfer, wood monkey, 
wood sheller, yack. 

Mentally Weak 

See couldn't drive nails in a snow bank, 
feather-headed, haywire, His thinker is 
puny., needs a wet nurse, off his mental 
reservation, ought to be bored for the 
hollow horn, ought to be playing with a 
string of spools. 


A trick-roping term. The rope is spun 
with an independent noose around and 
clear of the body, the roper using first 
one hand and then the other. 

9 8 


merry-go-round in high water 

The milling - of cattle in a stream. Al- 
though it is highly desirable to get stam- 
peding cattle to mill on land, when they 
do so in water the result is anything but 
desirable. When they get to swimming 
around in an ever-tightening circle in 
water, they become hopelessly massed, 
and the loss from drowning is enormous 
unless the herders are fortunate in break- 
ing up this mass in its early stages. To 
stop them is difficult and a dangerous 
task, as the rider can not enter the center 
of the mass to break it up, and pushing 
from the outside causes it to become 

mesa (may'sah) 

A flat-topped hill, an elevated plateau, 
a mountain shaped like a table. 

mesquital (meth-kee'tahl) 

A region covered with mesquite, clump 
of mesquite shrubs. From the Spanish 

mesquite (meth-kee'tay or 

Spanish mezquite, probably of Mexi- 
can-Indian origin. A tree or shrub found 
in the Southwest, especially in the flat 
country. The wood is exceedingly hard 
and durable underground. The plant is 
covered with thorns, and its fruit is a 
pulpy bean full of grape-sugar upon 
which cattle feed when they can get noth- 
ing better. 


A man, who, in the days of the stage- 
coach, rode beside the driver to defend 
the company's or shipper's property with 
a sawed-off shotgun; also called a shot- 
gun messenger. 

mess house 

The cook shack. 

mess wagon 

Another name for the chuck wagon. 

mestefio (mes-tay'nyo) 

A horse, a mustang. From the Spanish 
which really means an animal running 
wild on the range. 

met his shadow on the ground 

Said of one thrown from a bucking 


See chili, chili-eater, greaser, never- 
sweat, oiler, pelados, pepper-gut, scab 
herder, shuck, spic, sun-grinner. 

Mexican buckskin 

What the northern cowboy sometimes 
called a longhorn driven up the trail 
from Texas. 

Mexican iron 

A slang name for rawhide, called this 
because it was used extensively by the 
Mexicans and wore like iron. 

Mexicans don't count 

A boast of the gunman of the South- 
west who felt it beneath his dignity to 
"count coup" on the Mexicans and In- 
dians he killed. Some gunmen kept a 
careful record of the white men they 
killed by filing notches on their guns for 
their victims. 

Mexican standoff 

Getting away alive from any serious 
difficulty. The Mexican has never had 
the reputation, among the cowboys, for 
being a sticker in a fight. They claim 
that, if he does not win quickly in a gun 
battle or if he finds much opposition, he 
leaves in a hurry. 

Mexican strawberries 

A slang name for dried beans. 

mid-air dance 

A hanging. 

milk pitcher 

A cow giving milk. 


One who tends the windmills on a 


The marching of cattle in a compact 
circle. This formation is resorted to in 
stopping stampedes. As the cattle mill in 
a circle, they wind themselves up into a 
narrowing mass which becomes tighter 
and tighter until finally it is so tight they 
can no longer move. When the same ac- 


Western Words 

tion takes place with horses, it is spoken 
of as rounding-up, the term milling be- 
ing reserved strictly for cattle. 


See merry-go-round in high water, 

mill rider 

One whose duty it is to keep the wind- 
mills on the ranch in repair. 

minin' for lead 

Probing for a bullet in a wounded 

misty beyond 

A cowboy's reference to death, some- 
thing he does not fully understand. 

mixed cattle 

Cattle of various grades, ages, and 

mixed herd 

A herd of mixed sexes. 

mix the medicine 

Ability to cope with any situation. 


Sometimes used as a bucking term. As 
a rider mounts a bronc, another cow- 
boy may give such useless warnings as monkey Style 
"Look out, he's goin' to moan with 

virtually obsolete now, but was frequent- 
ly used in the early days, especially in 
California. The term was originally used 
in Pony Express days with reference to 
the mail pouches built into the skirts of 
the saddle. 

mocho (mo'cho) 

From the Spanish desmochar (des- 
mo-char 1 ' ) , to decapitate or cut off ; also 
cropped, dishonored. An animal which 
has lost part of its ear or tail is called 
a mocho ; also a gotched or droop-horned 


A wild mare. 


See blow in, bonanza, cowboy change, 
dinero, down to his last chip, dust, fight- 
in' wages, get-away money, gold colic, 
grass-bellied with spot cash, grass money, 
hard money, out of the money, savin' 
money for the bartender, short bit, time, 
wallow in velvet. 

monkey nose 

A slang name for a tapadero, which 
takes this name from its shape — a short, 
turned-up front. 

moccasin mail 

During trapper days, when one party 
preceded another, the leading party left 
messages of warning or reassurance by 
tying in a tree a moccasin in which the 
message was placed. Later, when cow- 
men on the trail left similar messages in 
the sand or in trees, they still spoke of 
them by this name. 

moccasin telegraph 

The grapevine system of information 
on the plains (W. S. Campbell [Stanley 
Vestal] to R.F.A.). 

mochila (mo-chee'lah) 

Spanish, meaning knapsack. A large 
piece of leather covering the saddle and 
put on after the saddle is cinched on the 
horse. It has a hole cut for the horn to 
go through and a narrow slit to let the 
cantle slip through. The contraption is 

A riding term. In riding monkey style, 
the rider seizes the horn of the saddle 
with one or both hands, pushes himself 
sideways out of the saddle, and standing 
in one stirrup, with the knee on the out- 
side rigid, and his other leg, resting mid- 
way between hip and knee, across the 
seat of the saddle. His flexed knee-joint 
and both hip-joints absorb the shock. 
(Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New 
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 
3 12 -) 

Monkey- Ward cowboy 

One wearing a mail-order outfit, and 
having little or no range experience. 

Montgomery Ward woman sent 
west on approval 

A homely woman. The cowman has 
his own unique expressions for this lack 
of beauty. Roarin' Edens spoke of a wo- 
man he considered shy of beauty by say- 
ing, "She had a face built for a hacka- 



more." Dutch Roeder spoke of a certain 
lady whose beauty he did not admire 
with the statement that "she ain't nothin' 
for a drinkin' man to look at." Another 
puncher, speaking of a woman of con- 
siderable heftiness, said that she "only 
needed four more pounds o' lard to git 
into a sideshow," while Rowdy Bibbs 
spoke of another as being "uglier'n a 
Mexican sheep." 

montura (mon-too'rah) 

Spanish, meaning horse intended, for 
the saddle; also saddle, traffings, and 
accoutrements of horses. The American 
occasionally uses it to mean his saddle. 


Said of a horse with white, glassy eyes. 

moonlight 'em 

To night ride for cattle. 

moonlight roping 

Brush cattle lie out in the brush in 
daytime and come out to little clearings 
to feed at night. On moonlight nights 
the cowman takes advantage of this habit, 
and his work is called moonlight roping. 


Working on roundup in a country so 
rough that packs have to be used in place 
of chuck wagons ; also a night drive and 
a dry camp. 

more guts than you could hang 
on a fence 

Said of one with unusual courage. 

more lip than a muley cow 

Said of one who talks too much. 

More straw! 

The call of the branders for more 
calves to be brought to the branding fire. 

more wrinkles on his horns 

Said of one who has become older 
and wiser. This saying came from the 
fact that the wild cattle of the brush 
and brakes were horn-wrinkled from old 
age reached through the freedom bought 
by wisdom. 

Mormon blanket 

A quilt made from scraps of faded 
overalls and jumpers. 

Mormon brakes 

A tree tied behind a wagon to retard 
its speed downhill. This device was first 
used by Mormon pioneers in crossing the 
San Bernado Mountains in 1850. 

Mormon dog 

A tin can filled with rocks, used in 
place of dogs in some sections of the 
Northwest to scare cattle from their hid- 
ing place in the rough country. 

Mormon tangle 

A squaw hitch, a packer's knot. 


A horse of bluish color. 

morral (mor-rahr) 

Spanish for a food bag for horses. 
This fiber bag is carried on the saddle 
horn when the rider is going on a trip 
and is riding a grain-fed horse. The 
word is widely used in the cattle country, 
and the bag is also called a nose bag. 


A Texas longhorn steer, six or more 

years old, whose horns have become 

wrinkled and scaly; also called a moss 

. horn. The term sometimes is slangily 

applied to old cowmen. 

Mother-Hubbard loop 

An extra-large loop. 

Mother-Hubbard saddle 

An early-day saddle, the first improve- 
ment upon the Mexican saddle, which 
consisted of little more than a tree and 
stirrup leathers. The Mother-Hubbard 
had a housing like the mochila, an al- 
most square piece of leather with a hole 
for the horn and a slit for the cantle, 
the whole being detachable. Later this 
was made a permanent part of the saddle, 
and was designed to give more comfort 
to both horse and rider. 

mother up 

Said when female stock claim their 


A clump of trees. 


The number of horses assigned to a 
rider for his personal use during his stay 


Western Words 

at the ranch (as noun) ; to climb astride 
a horse (as verb). The number of horses 
assigned a rider depends largely upon 
the size of the ranch and the kind of 
country to be worked. Seven to ten head 
is an average mount, and in this num- 
ber is included one or two broncs which 
the cowboy rides on circle to get them 
gradually used to cow work. The word 
mount is usually used in sections which 
employ the term remuda in speaking of 
the band of saddle horses. In the north- 
ern, or cavvy, country personal horses 
are called the string. 

mountain boomer 

One of cattle of the hilly country ; also 
a species of large mountain lizard. 

mountain oyster 

A testicle of a bull. Some find it a 
choice delicacy when roasted or fried. 


See changing mounts, cheeking, fly- 
ing mount, fork, hairpin, Indian side of 
a horse, light, mount, off side, pony ex- 
press mount, settin' on his arm, step 
across, take a run. 


One inclined to talk a great deal. Such 
a person is not usually held in high re- 
pute by the cowman. "The bigger the 
mouth the better it looks when shut" is 
cowman philosophy. 


One habitually moving from one range 
to another in a covered wagon, usually 
a squatter. Very commonly squatters, as 
one cowboy said, "had 'nough offspring 
to start a public school." Another cow- 
man of my acquaintance once referred 
to such an outfit with, "By the number 
of descendants he's got he musta been a 
Bishop in Utah." 

moving camp 

When a roundup camp is to be moved, 
the wagon boss gives instructions which 
no one but a cowhand familiar with the 
country could understand. The night- 
hawk drives up the remuda early. Saddle 
horses are caught and saddled, and the 
rest of the horses are left to graze near 
by. The rope corral is coiled and put 
into the wagon, beds are rolled and piled 

into it, too. Every cowhand finds some- 
thing to do, or he is not a cowboy. Some 
harness the cook's teams while others help 
him pack and stow his pots and utensils. 
When everything is ready, the cook 
crawls upon his wagon seat and is handed 
the lines by a thoughtful cowhand, who, 
before he realizes the lines are out of his 
hands, sees the cook herding his half raw 
broncs across the rough, roadless coun- 
try. The mess wagon is rattling and 
swaying behind that running team until 
he wonders how the outfit holds together. 
By the time the cowboys reach the new 
camp at noon, the cook will have camp 
set up and a hot meal waiting for them. 

movin' sheep 

When cowboys ran sheep over a cliff 
or off the range during a war between 
sheep and cattle factions. 

mozo (mo'tho) 

Spanish, meaning a young man, an as- 
sistant. Americans usually use the word 
in speaking of the assistant of a pack 


Cayuse Indian jargon for food. Some- 
times used by cowboys of the North- 


To bulldog a calf. 

mujer (moo-herr') 

A girl or young lady. The cowboy 
uses this word for color and variety 
when speaking of his girl. 

mulada (moo-lah'dah) 

A drove or herd of mules. Occasion- 
ally used by Americans as a convenience, 
since it is shorter than mule herd, or herd, 
of mules. 


Boots made with pull-on straps at the 
top; also a slang name for tapaderos, 
taking this name from their shape. 

mule-hipped horse 

One with hips that slope too much. 

mulero ( moo-lay 'ro) 

A mule driver; also called a mule 
skinner — mules are always skinned, never 




See Arizona nightingale, burro, desert 
canary, hard-tail, hatajo, head-and-tail 
string, knobhead, long-eared chuck 
wagon, mulata, pack mule, prospector's 
compass, Rocky Mountain canary. 

mule's breakfast 

A straw bed. 


A hornless cow. Being handicapped 
in defending herself from other cattle, 
she beds down at night on the outside 
edge of the herd away from the horned 
stuff. Coming thus under the cowboy's 
personal observation as he circles the 
herd, she is either "cussed" or called 
something endearing by him. The cow- 
hand does not like to drive muley cattle 
because they jam together, suffer from 
the heat, and lose more weight than 
horned cattle. Then, too, they cause him 
to use the greatest patience. (J. Evetts 
Haley, XIT Ranch [Chicago, Lakeside 
Press, 1929], 192.) 

muley saddle 

One without a horn. 

music roots 

A Westerner's name for sweet potatoes. 


A wild horse, restricted to the un- 
mixed variety (as noun). From the 
Spanish mesteno, which comes from 
mesta, meaning a group of horse raisers. 
The sufEx eno means belonging to, and 
so the horses that escaped from the early 
mestas and ran wild were mestenos, or 
mustangs. To catch mustangs (as verb). 


(Spanish, mestenero) A man engaged 
in catching mustangs for a livelihood. 


A herder of mustangs. 

mustard the cattle 

To stir them up and get them heated, 
or excited. 

mutton puncher 

Cowboy's humorous term to describe 
a sheepherder. 


"You can judge a man by the boss he rides''' 

narrow at the equator 

Hungry. I heard one puncher say that 
his "stomach was so shrunk it wouldn't 
chamber a liver-pill," and another that 
his "tapeworm was hollerin' for fodder." 


A Navajo Indian pony, which is held 
to be about the poorest specimen of horse- 
flesh on earth. 


This word, in range lingo, has a very 
different meaning from that which is 
used today in metropolitan circles. On 
the range, an unruly cow or one with 
roving disposition will often be necked 

or tied to a more tractable animal. This 
practice was especially resorted to in 
the days of the longhorn. After the two 
animals had worn themselves out trying 
to go in different directions at the same 
time, the wilder one was enough subdued 
to move along in company of its fel- 
lows. A good neck animal is valued 
highly by its owner. 

neck meat or nothin' 

The cowboy's equivalent to whole hog 
or nothing (William MacLeod Raine to 

neck oil 

Slang name for whiskey. 


Western Words 


A horse trained to turn at the slightest 
pressure of the reins on his neck. 

necktie social 

A lynching, a hanging. 


A rifle used on the frontier and called 
this because of its long firing pin which 
detonated the powder by plunging 
through the paper cartridge to strike the 
primer at the base of the bullet. 

needs a wet-nurse 

Said of an irresponsible or ignorant 


An old skinny cow or steer. 


A squatter who settles on state or gov- 
ernment land. This term is applied with 
contempt by the cattleman of the South- 
west to the early homesteaders who began 
tilling the soil in the range country. 
Viewed from some ridge, the early nest- 
er's home, as he cleared his little patch 
of brush and stacked it in a circular form 
to protect his first feed patch from range 
cattle, looked like a gigantic bird's nest. 
The cowboy, ever quick to catch re- 
semblances, mentioned it to the next man 
he met, and the name spread and stuck 
to every man that settled on the plains 
to till the soil. (John M. Hendrix, 
"Feedin'," West Texas Today [March, 
1936], 6.) 




A slang name for the Mexican. 

new ground 

An occasional name for a tenderfoot. 

nice kitty 

Occasional nickname for a skunk. 


The cowboy's term for the best in 
anything, from the nickel-plated decora- 
tions upon his person and riding gear to 
a well-dressed woman. 


Another term the mustanger used in 
speaking of creasing a horse. See creas- 

nigger brand 

A galled sore on a horse's back caused 
by careless riding (as noun) ; to ride so 
as to cause such sores (as verb). 


A small, slotted leather flap on one 
or both sides of the saddle, usually at 
the base of the fork or cantle, if a two- 
cinched saddle. Its purpose is to hold the 
long, free end of the latigo through the 
slit when cinched up. 


Said of a horse whose front toes turn 
out with the heels in. 

nigger horse 

One of black color. 


A cowboy dessert, usually made of 
raisins in dough. 

night drive 

The trailing of cattle at night. 

night guard 

The watching of the cattle herd at 
night. Each man in camp, except the 
cook and the wrangler, must serve his 
turn. Usually there were two men to each 
guard for the average herd. Upon reach- 
ing the bed-ground, they rode in opposite 
directions as they circled the herd. This 
answered the double purpose of keeping 
the men separated and having a man 
looking each way so that no animal could 
slip away unnoticed in the dark. Two 
punchers riding side by side and talking 
are bound to neglect their job. If things 
went smoothly, they kept this riding up 
until they were relieved. 

This was truly a job for a man "with 
fur on his brisket" on stormy nights 
when it was so dark "he couldn't find 
his nose with both hands." He had no 
stars to comfort him and could not even 
strike a match. If the cattle were extreme- 
ly nervous, he had to be equally extreme- 
ly cautious. As one cowhand put it, "You 
had to ride a mile to spit." On pleasant 




nights the work was not so hard, but 
even then the cowboy must stay in the 
saddle all the time, and the hours seemed 
long and lonesome. 

When working with the roundup or 
with a trail herd, the cowhand did not 
get much sleep, and what he did get was 
interrupted by his having to take his 
turn at night guard. But after he was on 
the job a while, he rarely needed to be 
wakened. Sleeping with his ear to the 
ground, he could hear the rider coming 
off herd when he was still a great dis- 
tance away, and by the time he reached 
camp, the new guard was ready to take 
his place. 


A person who herds saddle horses at 
night — one of those fellows who is said 
to have "swapped his bed for a lantern." 
Though his duties, keeping the saddle 
horses from straying too far away, are 
identical with those of the day wrangler, 
colloquial usage causes the day man to 
ivrangle horses, and the night-hawk to 
herd them. (Philip A. Rollins, The 
Cowboy [New York, Charles Scribner's 
Sons, 1936], 220.) 

Some outfits use only one wrangler 
and have no night-hawk. The job is a 
lonely one, and it is hard for the night- 
hawk to keep from dozing in the saddle, 
because the sleep he gets in the daytime 
at a noisy camp makes him long for a 
softer job. If the horses are quiet, and 
he stands in with the cook, he may sneak 
in and get a cup of coffee from the pot 
which is kept on the coals for the night 
herders when they change shifts. 

If the night is dark, he is apt to lose 
a few horses and will be late bringing 
up the remuda at daylight. Then he 
catches it from the boss, for no matter 
how good his excuse, it has no room 
with the man in charge. 

night herd 

To take charge of cattle on the bed- 

night herder 

A cowhand whose immediate duty it 
is to herd cattle at night. 

night horse 

A horse picketed so that he can be in- 

stantly caught for night use. A good 
night horse is of a special type, and in 
the days of the open range was one of 
the most essential horses. He is selected 
for his sure-footedness, good eyesight, 
and sense of direction. He must not be 
high-strung, but must be gentle, unex- 
citable, and intelligent. He is never used 
except for night work, and during stam- 
pedes much depends on him. He holds his 
rider's life in his ability to see, run, 
dodge, and keep his footing. He will see 
an animal straying from the herd and 
turn it back without guidance, and he 
can find his way back to camp on the 
darkest night. Every cowman loves his 
night horse and prizes him beyond price. 

night mare 

An humorous name for the night horse, 
though it is never a mare. 

no beans in the wheel 

An expression meaning that there are 
no cartridges in the cylinder of a gun. 

no breakfast forever 

Said of one caught in a prairie fire. 

no medicine 

No information upon a subject. 


A driving gale from the north that 
hurtles over the Southwest, and, coming 
into collision with preceding warm, moist 
breezes from the Gulf of Mexico, causes 
a sudden and extreme drop in tempera- 
ture. What is called a blizzard in the 
rest of the West is called a norther in 
Texas and the Southwest. As one cow- 
hand at Amarillo, Texas, said, "They 
jes' pour off the North Pole with nothin' 
to stop 'em but a bob-wire fence and 
it's full o' knot-holes." 


A morral ; also slang name for an eat- 


What the Indian called the buffalo 
gnats because they are so small, and the 
cowboy adopted the name. 

nose paint 

Slang name for whiskey. One cowhand 
spoke of another at a bar "paintin' his 


Western Words 

nose with cow-swallers o' that stuff that 
cures snake bites." 

notch in his tail 

Said of a horse which has killed a man. 

no time 

If a contestant in a calf-roping or 
bulldogging contest fails within the al- 
lotted time, he is given no time. These sad 
words have wrecked many a contestant's 
hopes for a chance at final money. 


Another slang name for the saddle 


The name, given in ridicule, to the 
driver of the old-time calf wagon used 
on trail drives. What the driver answered 
when called this was salty, but unprint- 


A slang name for teeth. 


"Another man's life don't make no soft pillow at night''' 

ocean wave 

Trick roping, which consists in filip- 
ing a noose backward and forward in 
an undulating movement. 

off herd 

Not at the time on duty with the herd. 

off his feed 

Said of one who looks or feels bad. 

off his mental reservation 

Said of a weak-minded person. 


See great seizer, John Law, lawdog, 
posse, redcoats, star-toter. 

off side 

The right side, because the horseman 
mounts from the left side. 

off the reservation 

This refers to Indians who had left 
their reservations for no good purpose; 
also to anyone speaking or acting out of 
turn (W. S. Campbell [Stanley Vestal] 
to R.F.A.). 


A slang name for a Mexican. 

oily bronc 

A bad horse. 

Oklahoma rain 

A dust storm. 

old cedar 

A slang name for a gun; a gun with 
a cedar stock. 

old man 

The boss or owner of the outfit. 

Old man him! 

Throwing a looped rope over the neck 
or back of a wild bronc in a corner or 
crowded enclosure, moving him over 
and passing the free end of the rope 
through the loop, thus roping him any- 
where one sees fit, for greater control 
and security. 

old reliable 

The cowman's pet name for his Sharps 
rifle, called this because it could always 
be depended upon. 


One who had lived in the country a 
long time. Most old-timers had had to 
fight many battles before the country 
became settled, and it could be said of 
many: "His scars was a regular war 
map." It was said of all good old-time 
Texans that they were "raised to vote 
the Democratic ticket, to love good 
whiskey, and hate Mexicans." 

1 06 



See alkalied, don't travel like a colt 
no more, entitled to a warm corner, 
forty-niner, grissel-heel, old-timer. 

old woman 

Affectionate name for the cook, but 
said behind his back. 

on circle 

A term applied when cowboys leave 
camp in a bunch, with the foreman turn- 
ing off the riders at intervals to gather 
cattle and drive them to a designated 
point, which is called the roundup 
ground. The point will change each day 
until the range is completely covered. 

one-eared bridle 

One composed of a single broad strap 
with a slit in it which fits over one ear 
to keep it in place. 

one-eyed scribe 

Slang name for a six-gun. 

one foot in the stirrup 

An expression meaning, according to 
context, to do something half-heartedly, 
or to be ready for an emergency. 

one-horse outfit 

A small outfit or ranch. 

one-man horse 

A horse broken in such a way that he 
would let no one ride him except the man 
who had broken him. 

on the Black Hills 

An early expression which meant the 
driving of a man from his chosen range 
and attempting to push him so far north 
that his final destination would be the 
Bad Lands of the Dakotas, a place com- 
pared by the southern cowman with hell 
(C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas 
[Dallas, Cecil Baugh Co., 1939], 40). 

on the cuidado 

Dodging the law; literally, on the 

on the dodge 

Another phrase for hiding from the 
law. A man on the dodge is usually, 
as Dewlap Burdick said, "one o' them 
fellers that keeps his hoss wonderin' at 

the hurry they're in, and he don't leave 
'nough tracks to trip an ant." 

On the Dodge 

See among the willows, belly through 
the brush, fixin' for high ridin', gone to 
Texas, hankerin' to sniff Gulf breeze, 
head for the settin' sun, in the brush, 
lookin' over his shoulder, on the cuidado, 
on the dodge, on the lookout, on the 
scout, pull for the Rio Grande, ridin' 
the high-lines, running wild, summer 
name, stampede to the wild bunch, travels 
the lonesome places, two jumps ahead 
of the sheriff, whippin' a tired pony out 
of Texas. 

on the drift 

Looking for a job, aimlessly riding 
through the country. 

on the hoof 

Live cattle; also used in referring to 
cattle traveling by trail under their own 
power as against going by rail. 

on their heads 

Cattle, when grazing, are said to be 
standing on their heads. 

on the lift 

Said of an animal which is down and 
can not get up without help. 

on the lookout 

Dodging the law. 

on the peck 

Fighting mad. Jim Houston, in telling 
a yarn about being charged, while afoot 
in a corral, by a cow on the peck, said: 
"There wasn't no love-light in that cow's 
eyes as she makes for me. I fogs it across 
the corral like I'm goin' to a dance and 
she's scratchin' the grease off my pants 
at ever' jump. Seein' I can't make the 
fence in time, Brazos Gowdy j umps down 
and throws his hat in the old gal's face. 
Seein' a cowboy come apart in pieces 
like that makes her hesitate till I climbs 
the fence without losin' anything more'n 
some confidence, a lot o' wind, and a 
little dignity. Y'u can take it from me 
that a cow with a fresh-branded calf 
might be a mother, but she shore ain't 
no lady." 


Western Words 

on the prod 

Another phrase for on the feck. See 
on the feck. 

on the scout 

Synonymous with on the dodge. 

on the warpath 

Fighting mad. As one cowman said, 
"mad as a bear with two cubs and a 
sore tail." 

on tick 

On credit. 

open a snap 

To start a crooked gambling layout. 

open brand 

One not boxed with framing lines. 

open-faced cattle 

White-faced Herefords. 

open heifer 

One not spayed. 

open range 

Range not fenced. 

open-range branding 

The branding of calves or cattle on 
the open range away from corrals. This 
is done by the larger outfits, or in two 
other instances. First, it is sometimes done 
by rightful owners when they come across 
a calf that has been overlooked in the 
regular branding. To avoid a long drive 
back to headquarters, the cowboy will 
rope the calf, tie it down, build a fire, 
and brand it where he finds it. Second, 
it is frequently done by the rustler, espe- 
cially if he is where he is not apt to be 
seen by some range rider. 

It is more difficult to drive one or two 
head of cattle than a large herd, and a 
good cowman avoids driving his stock 
as much as possible, hence his recourse 
to branding on the open range. In the 
early days all branding was done in the 
open, but later it was looked upon with 
suspicion unless done in the presence of 
a regular roundup crew. (Editorial, 
"Branding in the Open," Cattleman, 
XIX, No. 10 [March, 1939], 45.) 

open reins 

Reins not tied together, each independ- 

ent of the other. Most cowhands prefer 
open reins because if the horse falls or 
the rider is thrown, the reins will fall 
to the ground and the horse will step on 
them, giving the rider a chance to catch 
the horse. 

open roundup 

A roundup where the final bunching of 
cattle is not within a corral, but in the 

open-shop pants 

Slang name for chaps. 

open stirrups 

Stirrups without tapaderos, or toe- 

open-toed holster 

One with an open end, usually swung 
with a rivet. 

open winter 

A mild winter with no blizzards and 


See while the gate's still open. 


The riding of a wild horse, branding. 

op'ra house 

The top rail of the corral fence where 
one can watch the riding of a bucking 
horse. It is also a time-honored confer- 
ence place for all true range men where 
they talk over things in true range style 
— using laconic phrases that state their 
meaning without frills or mental reserva- 
tions and silences that carry their thoughts 
forward to the next utterance. 

Oregon puddin' foot 

A type of horse in the development of 
which a riding horse has been crossed 
with a draft horse, such as a Percheron 
or Clydesdale. This type was developed 
to some extent in Oregon for mountain 
work. Also called Oregon bigfoot. 

orejano (o-ray-hah'no) 

From the Spanish oreja, ear, literally 
an eared animal. The word really means 
long-eared, that is, not earmarked. An 
unbranded and unmarked animal, the 
term being used principally in California, 
Oregon, and Nevada. 




Short for coyote. 

ought to be bored for the 
hollow horn 

In the early days if an animal became 
ill, the sickness was pronounced a case 
of hollow horn, and as a cure a small 
hole was bored in the horn. From this 
practice the above saying was applied to 
persons who seemed to be feeble-minded. 
(J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns [Bos- 
ton, Little, Brown, 1941], 211.) One 
cowhand spoke of a feeble-minded per- 
son with, "The Lord poured in his brains 
with a teaspoon and somebody joggled 
His arm." 

ought to be playin' with a 
string of spools 

Said of one young or foolish; also of 
an ignorant or crazy person. 

outer circle 

The longer, outside circle on roundup, 
reaching to the outside limits of the ter- 
ritory to be "worked." As more territory 
is covered, the tougher horses are used. 


This word has various meanings. It 
means, according to the context, all the 
people engaged in any one enterprise or 
living in any one establishment, a party 
of people traveling together, or the phys- 
ical belongings of any person or group 
of persons. (Philip A. Rollins, The Cow- 
boy [Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 


The Westerner's word when he means 
outsmart or outguess. 


A horse which is particularly vicious 
and untamable, a wild cow or steer, a 
man who has committed deeds that have 
placed him on the wrong side of the law. 
He is a man who follows the western 
philosophy of "the best health resorts 
are the places unknown." Some of the 
early outlaws lived a life, as Charlie 
Russell said in Trails Plowed Under, 
"that'd make some o' them scary yeller- 
backed novels look like a primer." 


See badman, bandido, black book, 
cabron, cash in his six-shooter, cat-eyed, 
gone to Texas, high-line rider, hired 
killer, hold-up man, hole up, killer, 
ladinos, long rider, outlaw, ridin' the 
owlhoot trail, road agent, short-trigger 
man, wanted, wild bunch. 

out of the money 

Said of a rodeo riding contestant who 
loses, either by being thrown, drawing 
an inferior horse, or breaking some rule. 


One whose duty it is to ride about the 
range and keep a sharp lookout for any- 
thing that might happen to the detri- 
ment of his employer. While his duties 
are similar to the line rider's, unlike the 
line rider, who patrols a prescribed boun- 
dary, the outrider is commissioned to 
ride anywhere. 


The outrider's activities. 

outside man 

A man who represents his brand at 
outside ranches during a general round- 
up. He is usually at the top of the cow- 
boy profession and is a riding encyclo- 
pedia on brands and earmarks. His work 
is done in following the roundups of 
other ranges and turning back strays of 
his brand. His eye is so well trained that 
he can discover cattle belonging to his 
outfit in a vast, milling herd through a 
dust fog that an ordinary man could not 
see through. See ref. 


An earmark made by doubling the ear 
in and cutting a small piece, perhaps an 
inch, out of the upper part of the ear, 
an inch in length, and, perhaps one- 
third of an inch in depth. 


An earmark made by simply cutting 
down about an inch on the upper side 
of the ear. 


An earmark made by splitting the ear 
from the top, midway, about halfway 
back to the head and cutting off the 
upper half. 


Western Words 

overhand toss 

A roping term. A favorite method of 
catching horses in a corral. The only 
difference between it and the hooley-ann 
is that the hooley-ann turns over as the 
whirl is started, and the overhand toss 
turns over as it leaves the hand. The 
loop is fairly small, and, while held at 
shoulder height, the bottom part of it is 
kept swinging back and forth. When 
the throw is made, the loop is swung 
backward around the head and released 
toward the target. The loop is turned 
over as it is swung upward before it is 
let go, so that at the final moment the 
back of the hand is facing the left, thumb 
down. In this way, when the loop comes 
down, the honda is on the right instead 
of on the left. (W. M. French, "Ropes 
and Roping," Cattleman, XXVI, No. 12 
[May, 1940], 17-30.) 

overhead loop 

A throw made by starting the whirl 
across the front of the thrower to the 
left, with two or three whirls around 
the head for momentum, then casting at 
the target by whirling the loop out in 
front as it comes across the right shoul- 
der (W. M. French, "Ropes and Rop- 
ing," Cattleman, XXVI, No. 12 [May, 
1940], 17-30). 


This is a word given us by Argentina 
and used among breeders because no 
better English word has been found. It 
is used to distinguish color characteris- 
tics in the pinto horse, where the white 

spots on the body always begin at the 
belly and extend upward. The dark spots 
are usually smaller and more plentiful. 
See tobiano. (George M. Glendenning, 
"Overos and Tobianos," Western Horse- 
man, VII, No. 1 [January-February, 
1942], 12.) 


An earmark made by cutting a half- 
circle from the top of the ear. 


An earmark made by cutting the ear 
about two-thirds of the way back from 
the tip, straight to the center of the ear 
at its upper side. 


A simple split of the ear downward 
on the upper side. 

over the willows 

When the trail boss rode back to the 
place where the herd was being held up 
after he had viewed the turbulent river 
ahead and announced that it was "over 
the willows," he meant that it was at 
flood stage and there would be several 
hundred yards of swimming water. 


A horse that can not be trained to 
work or to be ridden. 


The old style, large wooden stirrups. 


Another slang name for the stirrups 
mentioned above. 

"A change of pasture sometimes makes the calf fatter" 


A bundle or bale (as noun) ; to carry 
(as verb). A cowman never carries any- 
thing, but packs it, as "packs a gun," 
"packs his saddle," and so on. 

pack covers 

Canvas sheets to roll packs in. 

packs his gun loose 

This expression means that the one 
spoken of is always ready for a gun fight. 



pack mule 

A mule used to carry packs of freight. 

pack rat 

A western rodent which always leaves 
something' in exchange when he carries 
anything off (commonly called a trade 
rat) , a petty thief ; the term is also some- 
times used to mean guides and packers. 


A saddle used for carrying freight, 
camp equipment, and other materials. 

packs a long rope 

Said of a rustler. 

pack train 

A group of animals carrying packs of 
freight. One of the West's principal 
means of transportation in early days, 
especially in rough country. 

padding out his belly 

Said of one who eats at every oppor- 


The gait of a horse, in which he wings 
out with his front feet. 

pail fed 

Said of a calf raised on skimmed milk. 


A horse with irregular patterns of 
white with colored areas. It is a favorite 
with fiction writers, but fails to meet 
with much favor as a cow horse. Not 
being good for close, quick work, it does 
not develop into a cutting horse and is 
inclined to get the habit of fighting the 

Paint horses are very showy, and for 
this reason the cowboy does not object 
to having one in his string to use as his 
gallin' horse, but when it comes to real 
cow work, he prefers a solid-colored 
horse (John M. Hendrix, "Paints as Cow 
Horses," Cattleman, XXI, No. 6 [No- 
vember, 1934], 13). An adage of the 
cow country is, "Color don't count if 
the colt don't trot." 

painted cat 

A name frequently given a woman of 
the frontier dance hall and bawdy house. 


The West's name for a panther, or 
mountain lion. 

paint for war 

To prepare to do battle, to lose one's 

paintin' his nose 

Said of one getting drunk. 

paint the tonsils 

To drink whiskey. I once heard a cow- 
hand speak of another's drinking by say- 
ing: "He's takin' the first layer off his 

paisano (pay-e-sah'no) 

A road runner, a chaparral bird. The 
word is originally from fats, meaning 
country, and was applied to a fellow 
countryman or peasant. 

palomilla (pah-lo-meeriyah) 

A milk-white or cream-colored horse 
with a white mane and tail. 

palomino (pah-lo-mee'nah) 

A dun-colored or golden horse with 
a white, silver, or ivory mane and tail. 


The cowboy's contemptuous name for 
the small English riding saddle. 

pants rats 

What the cowboy calls body lice. 
When one of the hands of a certain Mon- 
tana ranch came home after spending a 
week in an Indian camp, the boys de- 
cided that his clothes needed delousing. 
They made him strip and throw his 
clothes to them to be put into a pot of 
boiling water. When he quit throwing 
garments through the door, one of the 
boys yelled to find out if that was all, 
and the naked cowboy yelled back, "I 
can't go no deeper without a skinnin' 

Charlie Russell tells an amusing story 
about these insects. "It's one spring 
roundup, back in the early '80s," he 
wrote. "We're out on circle, and me and 
Pete's ridin' together. Mine's a center-fire 
saddle, and I drop back to straighten 
the blanket and set it. I ain't but a few 
minutes behind him, but the next I 
see Pete is on the bank of this creek, 


Western Words 

which didn't have no name then. He's 
off his hoss and has stripped his shirt 
off. With one boulder on the ground 
and another about the same size in his 
hand, he's poundin' the seams of his shirt. 
He's so busy he don't hear me when I 
ride up, and he's cussin' and swearin' to 
himself, I hear him mutter, 'I'm damned 
if this don't get some of the big ones!' 

"Well, from this day on, this stream 
is known as Louse Creek." (Charles M. 
Russell, Trails Plowed Under [Garden 
City, Doubleday, Doran, 1935], 77.) 


Physical weakness. Ben Langford 
spoke of one being "so weak he couldn't 
lick his upper lip," and I heard a cow- 
hand of the Three T refer to another 
as being "so puny he couldn't pull my 
hat off." 

parada (pah-rah'dah) 

Synonymous with main herd and used 
principally in California, Oregon, and 
Nevada; sometimes used in referring to 
a herd of broken horses. 

parada grounds 

The location selected to work a herd 
of cattle; from farar, meaning to stof, 
to detain. 

parfleche (par'flesh) 

A Canadian-French word meaning 
the prepared hide of an animal, as of a 
buffalo dried on a frame after the hair 
has been removed. The cowboy uses this 
word in speaking of his poke, or war- 
bag, and has changed it to farfiesh. The 
word is sometimes used in the North- 
west, but rarely in the Southwest. 


Bed comfort. 

parlor gun 

What the cowman calls a derringer 
or small gun. By this name he expresses 
his contempt for anything but a "man- 
sized gun." 

parlor house 

A house of the red-light district, one 
of the better houses which has a parlor. 
Cheaper and parlorless houses are cribs. 


A pistol with a semiround butt. 

paesear (pah-say-ar') 

Spanish, meaning to walk slowly, to 
wander. Commonly used in the South- 
west as meaning to go some place leis- 
urely, or to go on an inspection tour. 


See cahoots, compadre, made of the 
same leather, throw in. 

paso (pah'so) 

A pass, a ford ; a double-step, six feet. 

pass in his chips 

To die. 

pass the buck 

This common saying originated in the 
West in the late 1 8 6o's. In poker, during 
its early days, it was customary for the 
players to cut for deal, and the winner 
of the opening pot continued to deal 
until he lost, when the privilege then 
went to his conqueror. With the intro- 
duction of draw poker, it became the 
custom to pass the deal to the left after 
each hand. 

On the western frontier this practice 
led to the custom of using a buck. It 
could be any object, but was usually a 
knife, and since most western men in 
those days carried knives with buckhorn 
handles, this name was adopted. The 
buck was placed in front of the dealer 
to mark the deal and was passed along 
at the conclusion of each pot. In some 
sections a player who did not wish to 
deal was permitted to ante and pass 
the buck. Thus the term became a slang 
expression for letting someone else per- 
form a task originally imposed upon 
you, or letting someone else take the 
blame for an act. (Herbert Asbury, 
Sucker's Progress [New York, Dodd, 
Mead & Co., 1938], 28.) 

pasture count 

Counting cattle on the range or in a 
pasture without throwing them together 
for that purpose. The counters ride 
through the pasture counting each bunch 
of grazing cattle and drifting it back 
so that it does not get mixed with the 
uncounted cattle ahead. This method of 
counting is usually done at the request, 
and in the presence, of a representative 
of the bank that holds the papers against 
the herd. 




See democrat pasture, grazing permit, 
pony pasture, put to grass, rustle the 
pasture, shipping trap, starve-out, Texas 

Paul Pry 

A meddler. 


Shot in the stomach. One cowhand 
spoke of another's being paunched with, 
"He got a pill in his stomach he couldn't 


This 1873 model Colt became the most 
famous revolver in the world and was 
the favorite of many famous gunmen. 
It was originally chambered for the .45 
caliber, center-fire, black-powder cart- 
ridge, but almost immediately after its 
introduction was chambered for the .44 
Winchester (.44— .40) center-fire cart- 
ridge, and was used as a companion arm 
to the equally famous Winchester model 
1873 rifle. 

peal (pay-ahl') 

A sock, foot, or stocking (as noun) ; 
also a worthless person; to rope an 
animal by the hind foot (as verb). This 
throw is commonly used in "stretching 
out" a cow or steer — never a horse — that 
has been roped by the head or neck. 
When adroitly cast, the loop turns so as 
to form a figure eight, and one hind foot 
is caught in one half of the figure and 
the other in the other half. (J. Frank 
Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country 
[Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 263.) 

pearl diver 

A slang name for a dishwasher in a 


A saddle horse, untrained for cow 

Pecos (Pay 'cos) 

After the Pecos River. To shoot a man 
and roll his body into the river. 

Pecos Bill 

A liar, a mythical character of the 

Pecos swap ' 

A trade made without consent or 
knowledge of the other interested party, 
to steal. 

peddler of loads 

A teller of tall tales. It did not take 
much persuading to start a cowman on 
a "campaign against truth," and he 
"could color up a story redder than a 
Navajo blanket." 


One who skins, sometimes called strip- 
per; also short for bronc -peeler. 


Skinning the hide off cattle, riding a 
rough horse. 


Boots with short tops, today the most 
popular style of boot found upon the 

Carl B. Livingston, of Santa Fe, New 
Mexico, tells the following story of the 
origin of the short-top boot: "A group 
of the best ropers and riders of the plains 
went on a roping expedition to South 
America in 1905. Among these were 
some of the champions of the world. . . . 
The American cowboy by far excelled 
the gaucho of the Pampas in roping. 
They took in a great deal of money at 
their roping exhibitions, but always, un- 
fortunately, there was some law of which 
they had violated, and would have to pay 
out immediately all they had taken in. 

"The papers in the states were full of 
the exploits of the North Americans, as 
they were called.* Among the events ex- 
hibited was th£ American cowboy's 
method of throwing a yearling, plung- 
ing at the end of a lariat. The orthodox 
American cowboy method was to grab 
the yearling by an ear with one hand 
and by the flank with the other hand, 
while the yearling was bouncing in the 
air, catch him on the bounce, and then 
bust him on the ground. These yearlings 
were wild and strong and the boys did 
not always throw them on the first 
bounce. Sometimes the bawling yearlings, 
in pitching, would run a hoof down a 
cowboy's high-top bootleg, thus the legs 
of the boots became ripped and torn. 
The boys, about whom the papers had 


Western Words 

made over so much, were at least re- 
turning home a great success in their ad- 
ventures, but sadly low in finances. 

"Heroes could not come home with 
ragged boots. They simply whacked off 
the tops, and laced the edges together 
with string. When the crowd came 
stomping into Old Sol's Lone Wolf Sa- 
loon, in Carlsbad, they were shockingly 
asked by their comrades who had stayed 
at home, 'Where'd you git such funny 
boots? ' The adventurers reared back their 
shoulders, indignantly stuck out their 
chests, and replied simply, 'Them's the 
style ! ' And so they have become the cus- 
tomary height of boot from that day to 
this, for these boys who had roped all 
over North and South America, were 
princes of the cowboy profession, and 
set the styles." (Carl B. Livingston, "De- 
velopment of the Cattle Industry in New 
Mexico," Cattleman, XXIV, No. 12 
[May, 1938], 21-31.) 


Ramming one horn of a downed steer 
into the ground to hold him down. This 
is not allowed in contests. 

peg pony 

A saddle horse which, when galloping 
in one direction, can stop short in his 
tracks, change his direction, and instantly 
bound off on a new course. He is highly 
valued by the cowman, especially for 
cutting work. Also called a peg horse 
or pegger. 

pelados (pay-lah'dos) 

From the Spanish pelar, meaning to 
remove the hair or skin, to cut or pull 
out the hair, to strip one of his posses- 
sions. The border American uses this 
word as a name for the Mexican, by 
whom it is greatly resented. (Harold W. 
Bentley, Dictionary of Spanish Terms in 
English [Columbia University Press, 
1932], 178.) 


A slang name for the saddle. 

pepper-and-salt rope 

A hair rope made with alternating 
strands of black and white horsehair. 


Slang name for the Mexican. 

Personal Equipment 

See boughten bag, bring-'em-close 
glasses, coffin, concha, ditty, dofunnies, 
go-easter, maleta, Mormon blanket, par- 
fleche, plunder, poke, poncha, quirt, 
quisto, teguas, thirty years' gathering, 
tucker bag, war-bag, wipes, yannigan 


See rib up. 


Slang name for a six-gun ; also a spur. 


A wild horse with brush or burr tail. 

petalta (pay-tartah) 

A herd of cattle rounded up for cut- 
ting out. 

petate (pay-tah'tay) 

A square piece of matting made of palm 
to place over packs to protect them from 


Slang name for spurs. 


An imitation or drugstore type of cow- 

picked brand 

Accomplished by picking out tufts of 
hair in the lines desired by the aid of a 
jackknife. It is seldom done except by 
dishonest men until they can get the ani- 
mal out of the country, as it is only a 
temporary marking. 


To stake a horse. 

picket pin 

A wooden stake, driven into the 
ground, to which an animal is picketed. 
When staking night horses is the prac- 
tice, stake pins are carried as part of the 
chuck-wagon equipment. If the horse- 
man has no picket pin, he digs a hole in 
the ground, ties a knot in the end of his 
rope and buries it, then tamps the dirt 
closely around it. It is surprising how 
well it will hold. 

picket rope 

A rope used for picketing horses. The 

II 4 


cowboy will not use his lariat for stak- 
ing if he can help it. He has to tie an 
extra knot to make a slip noose to keep 
from choking the horse, and this causes 
a kink that makes the rope unfit for any- 
other use. 

Pick him up! 

A cry given by the judges at rodeos 
to pick up a rider after his time is up 
or the horse has bucked himself out. It 
means to catch the animal so that the 
rider can dismount and the saddle can 
be removed. Also the expressions take 
him up or cage him up are used. 

pickin' daisies 

Said of a thrown rider. 

picking a sleeper 

Frequently on the range an animal is 
found whose brand is difficult to de- 
cipher, or it is hard to tell whether the 
animal has ever been branded or not. 
This occurs especially in winter when 
the animal's hair is long and rough. 
When an animal of this sort is found, it 
is caught and held down while men pluck 
the hair around the brand. Frequently a 
brand will be discernible to the touch, 
but has not been burned deep enough to 
give lasting legibility. Again, some rust- 
ler may have hair branded the animal 
and not been able to return to pick it up 
until the hair had grown out again. The 
operation of picking such a brand is 
known as picking a sleeper. (Editorial, 
"Picking a Sleeper," Cattleman, XIX, 
No. 10 [March, 1933], 35.) 

pick up his hind feet 

To rope an animal by the hind feet. 

pick up his toes 

To rope an animal by the front feet. 

pick-up man 

A horseman who stands ready to take 
up the horse ridden by a rodeo contest- 
ant when the ride is over. 


Spotted, painted, the color of a horse, 
horses with patches of white and black 


A horse which secretly forages the 

camp kitchen to indulge his acquired 



A slang name for the chuck wagon, 
perhaps in wishful thinking. 

pie wagon 

A trailer used behind the chuck wagon. 


Nickname for the saddle horn. 

piggin' string 

A short rope used for hog-tying. See 
hoggin' rope. 

pig's vest with buttons 

Salt pork, or sowbelly. 


In faro, one who makes small bets all 
over the "layout." From this, the term 
developed into meaning a cheap sport 
and a man without courage. 

piket (pee-kay') 

A slang name for a skunk. 


Thrown from a horse. After making 
a very hard ride, one cowhand of the 
TU Ranch said, "After that ride all I 
needed to make me a cripple was a hand- 
ful o' lead pencils." 


A horse which humps its back and 
comes down with all four legs as stiff 
as ramrods when it bucks. 

pile it on 

To throw a rope upon. 


One new to the country. The word 
was first applied to the imported hot- 
blooded cattle, but later was more com- 
monly used as reference to a tenderfoot. 


A man whose duty it is to guide the 
roundup wagons over the roadless plains 
and brakes to the next camping place. 
He has to be well acquainted with the 
country and to use good judgment con- 
cerning the location of the next camp 
with regard to water and suitable sur- 
roundings for working cattle. 


Western Words 

pill roller 

Nickname for a doctor. 


The cowboy's contemptuous name for 
the little eastern riding saddles. 


Dwarf pine. 

pins crape on the kid 

Said when a rustler kills the mother 
cow to steal her calf. 


From the Spanish fintar (feen'tah), 
meaning sfot or mark by which a thing 
is known. A piebald or spotted horse. 

pinto chaps 

Hair chaps, the hair made spotted by 
sewing in pieces of another color. 


When a horse leaps forward in an 
upward jump, and turns, feet in air, and 
lands on his back. A horse that will do 
this is very rare. Used as a gun term, it 
means that the gun is held in virtual 
firing position except that the forefinger 
is not in the trigger guard. The gun is 
filiped into the air so that it revolves 
and the butt drops naturally into the 
palm of the hand. The movement is 
started by throwing the butt down with 
a jerk of the wrist, with the muzzle up. 

pioneer bucker 

A horse which bucks in circles and 
figure eights, called this because he is 
always seeking new territory. 


Meandering, "foolin' 'round." 


A young rider, inexperienced hand. 
The cowboy never calls his gun a pistol. 

pistol whip 

To whip one with the barrel of a six- 
gun. Sug Morgan, speaking of such an 
incident, said, "I let 'im feel my gun 
where the hair was thinnest and put a 
knot on his head that'd sweat a rat to 
run around." Some writers of westerns 
have their heroes grasping the guns by 
the barrels and clubbing with the butts. 

No one but a greener would pull this 
stunt. What do they think the villain 
would be doing all the time it takes the 
hero to get hold of the barrel? 


The Texans' name for bucking. 

pitchin' fence-cornered 

Said when a horse leaves the ground 
while headed in one direction and lands 
in another at approximately a forty-five 
degree angle. 


When cattle are caught in a corner or 
draw during a snowstorm. 

plain trail 

Clearly visible sign in trailing. 


To bury. A beautiful sentiment was 
expressed at many early-day cowboy 
burials. The dead man's horse, fully 
saddled, was led beside the grave. There 
the horse was silently unsaddled from 
the off, or wrong, side — a solemn an- 
nouncement that none of the mourners 
were the dead man's equal in equestrian 

play a lone hand 

To do or live alone. 

playin' a hand with his eyes shut 

Said of one taking a chance. 

playin' cat's cradle with his neck 

Said of one hanged. 


A name given in derision by the rust- 
ler to the loyal cowboy who works for 
a fenced ranch. 


Riding with a rein in each hand and 
pulling the horse's head around with one 
rein while the other is pulled against the 

plow chaser 

A slang name for the farmer. 


Slang name for a six-gun, taking this 
name from the shape of the stock found 
on the Colt single action army revolver 



made in one piece of walnut or other 
hardwood and polished smooth. This gun 
was designed so that it recoiled freely in 
the hand, thus making a smooth stock 
preferable, for the gun was muzzle heavy 
and its almost perfect balance allowed 
it to slip back to shooting position after 
the recoil. 


See lookin' at a mule's tail, turnin' the 
grass upside down. 


A broken-down horse (as noun) ; to 
shoot one with a gun (as verb). 

plumb cultus 

An expression meaning as bad as they 
make them, cussedness. Cultus comes from 
a Chinook Indian word, meaning worth- 


Personal belongings of odds and ends. 

pocket hunter 

A prospector, one who searches for 
pockets of gold or silver. 

poco (po'ko) 

Little, scanty, a small amount. Often 
used by southwestern cowboys in connec- 
tion with such words as tiemfo (time) pool Camp 
and malo (bad). 


Sack in which the cowboy carries his 
"plunder." The term is rarely used ex- 
cept in the Northwest; in other sections 
the sacks are called war-sacks or ivar- 

pole team 

The horses nearest the vehicle when 
two or more teams are used. 


A covering made by cutting a hole for 
the head through the middle of a blanket, 
and used by Mexicans and cowboys as a 
protection against the weather. 

pony beeves 

Young cattle about two years old, the 
right age for fattening for market. 

pony express mount 

A running mount made by leaping 
into the saddle without touching the feet 
to the stirrups. 

pony pasture 

A small pasture used for saddle horses. 


The name of a dish made of tomatoes, 
sugar, and bread. 


An occasional name for an orphan 
calf, usually big-bellied and undernour- 

point rider 

One of the men who ride at the head 
of a column of cattle on the trail and 
act as pilots. They usually work in 
pairs, and when they desire to change 
the course of the herd, they will ride 
abreast the foremost cattle, one on each 
side of the column. Then they will quiet- 
ly veer in the desired direction, and the 
leading cattle will swerve away from 
the horseman approaching them and to- 
ward the one going away from them. 
This is the honored post of the drive, and 
also the most dangerous and responsible. 
These men were the first to swim rivers 
and the first to meet attacks by Indians. 
See lead men. 

The roundup camp of several ranches 
which have thrown in together. 

pool roundup 

When cattlemen over a wide range of 
territory pool their resources and men 
for a general rounding up of cattle. 


See bed-slat ribs, bone-yard, buzzard- 
bait, crow bait, get rid of his leaf lard, 
had a bilious look, just a ball of hair, 
rusties, shad bellied, slab-sided. 

poor doe 

Lean, tough venison of any kind. 


The raised portion of a bit. 


A band of men organized to run down 
lawbreakers. One reformed outlaw told 
of a posse keeping on his trail until he 
"got saddle sores." 

II 7 


A rawhide hanging beneath the wagon 
bed for carrying fuel. See curia. 

postage stamp 

A ridiculous name for the little riding 
saddle used by Easterners. 

post hay 

Referring to the act of tying a horse 
to a post and not obtaining food for the 


Cowboy's name for a derby hat. 


Bloated; also called pot-gutted. 


A bog hole. 

pothole rider 

A bog rider. See bog rider. 


A hook used for holding pots over the 


A slang name for the cook. 


As used by the cowman and other fron- 
tiersmen, this means food contributed by 
a guest. To bring potluck is to bring food 
with one. 

pot-rack outfit 

A ranch crew which uses no tents on 
roundup when it is the custom of the 
country to do so. 

potros (po'tros) 

Young horses, up to the time when 
they change their milk teeth, or about 
four and one-half years of age; colts, 

pot rustler 

Another slang name for the cook. 

pounding 'em on the back 

A term used with reference to the duty 
of riding drag. 

poverty cattle 


Western Words 
powder burnin' contest 

A gun battle. After participating in 
such a fight, Carey Nelms said, "After 
that powder burnin' contest my gun was 
emptier'n a banker's heart." He did not 
get hit, but one bullet came so close it 
"raised a blister." 

Powder River! Let 'er buck! 

A shout of encouragement, a pass- 
word, a cry of derision. This is a very 
familiar cry throughout the cattle coun- 
try of the Northwest. During World 
War I, in the Argonne, it was the battle 
cry of the Ninety-first Division, and it 
might be said that it has been heard 
around the world. 

While in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I met 
Agnes Wright Spring, a member of the 
editorial staff of the Wyoming Stock- 
man-Farmer, who gave me a story of the 
origin of this famous phrase, originally 
told by E. J. Farlow, a former cowman 
mayor of Lander. According to Mr. Far- 
low, the saying originated after a round- 
up in the fall of 1893, when a herd of 
cattle was being driven to Caspar: 

"The night we camped on the divide 
between the head of Poison Creek, near 
where the town of Hiland now stands, 
and the headwaters of 'Dry Powder' 
River, I told the boys we would water 
the herd in Powder River at about 10 
o'clock the next morning. 

"None of them had ever seen Powder 
River and they were all excited. In the 
morning when they were catching horses 
for the day, I called out to them to get 
their swimming horses as we were going 
to cross Powder River several times be- 
fore night. Missouri Bill Shultz, who 
had already roped his horse, turned him 
loose, muttering that 'this damn buck- 
skin couldn't even wade a river.' 

"About io o'clock the lead of the 
herd reached the river and it was almost 
dry, the water standing in holes and 
barely running from one hole to the 
other. The herd followed down stream 
for a distance of about two miles before 
they were watered, and we crossed it 
many times. 

"When Missouri Bill saw it he looked 
at it very seriously for some time and 
then said, 'So this is Powder River,' 
and that night in camp he told us he had 



heard of Powder River and now he had 
seen Powder River, and he kept refer- 
ring to Powder River nearly every day 
until we reached Caspar which we did 
in twenty-eight days trailing. 

"In the evening before we were going 
to load for shipping, and the cattle were 
all bedded down near the stockyards, the 
boys all adjourned to the saloon for a 
social drink, and Missouri Bill said 'Boys, 
come and have a drink on me. I've crossed 
Powder River.' They had the drinks, 
then a few more and were getting pretty 

"When Missouri Bill again ordered 
he said to the boys, 'Have another drink 
on me, I've swum Powder River,' this 
time with a distinct emphasis on the 
words Powder River. 'Yes, sir, by God, 
Powder River,' with a little stronger em- 
phasis. When the drinks were all set up 
he said, 'Well, here's to Powder River, 
let 'er buck!' 

"Soon he grew louder and was heard 
to say 'Powder River is comin' up — 
eeyeeep ! — Yes sir, Powder River is risin',' 
and soon after with a yip and a yell, he 
pulls out his old six-gun and throwed 
a few shots through the ceiling and 
yelled, 'Powder River is up, come an' 
have 'nother drink.' Bang! Bang! 'Yeow, 
I'm a wolf and it's my night to howl.' 
Powder River is out of 'er banks. I'm 
wild and wooly and full o' fleas, and 
never been curried below the knees.' 

"Bill was loaded for bear, and that is 
the first time I ever heard the slogan, 
and from there it went around the 

Many a cowboy, exuberant with whis- 
key, brought to light his own version, 
such as: "Powder River, let 'er buck — 
she's a mile wide — an inch deep — full o' 
dust and flat fish — swimmin' holes for 
grasshoppers — cross 'er anywhere — yeou- 
uhh — yippee — she rolls up hill from 


Orders from the boss. 


From the Indian, meaning a conjura- 
tion performed for the cure of diseases, 
attended with noise and confusion, and 
often with dancing; any meeting, as for 
a conference, attended by confusion. The 

cowman uses the word to refer to a "get 
together" for a conference. 

prairie coal 

Dried cow chips used for fuel. 

prairie dog court 

Kangaroo court. 

prairie feathers 

What the cowboy calls beds stuffed 
with hay. 

prairie lawyer 

A name frequently given to a coyote 
because it makes so much chatter. 

prairie pancakes 

Dried cow chips. 

prairie schooner 

The wagon of the early days, the can- 
vas cover of which suggested a schooner 
under full sail. 

prairie strawberries 

A slang name for beans. 

prairie wool 

A slang name for grass. 


See cut a big gut, cut a shine, horse- 
play, prairie dog court, rim firing a 

prayer book 

What the cowboy calls his book of 
cigaret papers. 

prayin' cow 

A cow rises from the ground rear end 
first. By the time her hindquarters are 
in a standing position, her knees are on 
the ground in a praying attitude. It is 
when she is in this position that the name 
frayin' coiu is suggested to the cowboy. 

presidente (pray-se-den'tay) 

An occasional name for the big boss 
of the ranch. From the Spanish, meaning 
a local government official. 


See hoosgow, makin' hair bridles, 
skookum house, tiger. 

private cuss words 

An individual creation of the profanity 

II 9 

Western Words 

for which the public accords a sort of 
copyright to the inventor. The words 
may not even be profane, but the public 
soon learns that the user only releases 
them when he's "madder'n a drunk 
squaw," and they can be so effective as 
to "take the frost out of a zero mornin'." 

prod pole 

A pole about six feet long, with a 
steel spike on the end and with a heavy 
handle. It is used to prod cattle into stock- 
cars. Near the business end and extending 
out a short distance at right angles from 
the pole is driven a flat-headed screw. 
This screw is twisted into the matted 
end of a steer's tail when he is down and 
refuses to get up, and this method usual- 
ly gets a "rise" out of him. 


See salty, salty dog, top. 


Quickly, soon, hurry. It is no longer 
restricted to the part of the country under 
Spanish influence, but is commonly used 
throughout the United States. 


See coffee cooler, desert rat, grissel- 
heel, pocket hunter, prospector's com- 
pass, river sniper, sage rat. 

prospector's compass 

A burro's tail. 


To go back over a territory after a 
roundup in search of cattle which may 
have been missed. 

puddin' foot 

A big-footed or awkward horse. 

pueblo (poo-ay'blo) 



A horse which is always leaning on 
the bit and wanting to go. 

pull for the Rio Grande 

To hit for that line which has, for so 
many men on both sides, meant life or 
death (J. Frank Dobie, Vaquero of the 
Brush Country [Dallas, Southwest Press, 
1929], 125) ; used in the sense of on the 

pulling bog 

Pulling cattle from bog holes. 

pull in his horns 

Said of one who backs down from a 

pull leather 

To grab the saddle horn during the 
riding of an unruly horse. 

pull stakes 

To leave, to move, bag and baggage. 

pull the trip 

Cowboy parlance for, after roping a 
cow, dropping the rope under the ani- 
mal's right hip bone and around its but- 
tocks for the busting. See steer busting. 


A bucking term used when the horse 
bucks with a see-saw effect, landing al- 
ternately on his front and hind feet. He 
is an easy horse to ride, and as one cow- 
boy said, "A baby couldn't fall off him." 
A man who draws such a horse at a rid- 
ing contest feels himself to be cheated, 
and the sarcastic remarks from the side- 
lines do not improve his temper. 

pumpkin roller 

The name given to a grumbler or agi- 
tator. Such persons are not tolerated in a 
cow camp. They are also called freaks, 
because the cowboy, being such an un- 
complaining and loyal soul by nature, 
feels that such people do not belong to 
the calling. Also a name for a green 

pumpkin-seed saddle 

A slang name for a small saddle. 

pumpkin skin 

What cowmen in some localities call 
a palomino horse. 


A man who works cattle; short for 

punch the breeze 

To go in a hurry. 

puncture lady 

This means a woman who prefers to 
sit on the sidelines at a dance and gossip 



rather than dance. She usually makes a 
good job of puncturing someone's repu- 


An inexperienced hand. 

pup's nest 

A prairie dog's hole. 


A thoroughbred, one who is loyal. 

push on the reins 

A colloquialism for urging one's 
mount to full speed. 


Said of mild bucking with arched 
back; same as cat-back. 

put a kid on a horse 

In the ranch country when any errands 
are to be run or any messages to be sent, 
it is common practice to put a kid on a 
horse to do the job. 

put a spoke in his wheel 

To hinder or stop anyone from carry- 
ing out some action or intention. 

Put 'em east and west, boy! 

This expression is generally shouted 
by a judge to a cowboy in a riding con- 
test when he is spur buttoning, and means 
for him to spur the horse's shoulders 
with toes pointed outward. 

put his saddle in the wagon 

This expression signifies that the one 

spoken of is fired and is no longer riding 
for the ranch. 

put leather on his horse 

Said when a cowboy saddles his horse. 

put on tallow 

To fatten, to gain flesh. 

put the loop on 

To lasso. 

put the saddle on him 

When referring to a man, this expres- 
sion means that one tried to bluff, 01 
"ride," another. 

puttin' the leggin's 

Whipping one with leggin's, chapping. 


A wooden stake, which is driven into 
the ground and to which one end of the 
picket- rope is attached; the word is de- 
rived from the French foteau, meaning 
post (Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy 

[New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 

1936], 140). 

put to bed with a pick and shovel 

Said of a burial. 

put to grass 

To turn stock out on a range or into 
a pasture. 

put windows in his skull 

To shoot one through the head. 


"Any boss's tail kin ketch cockleburs" 


What the cowman calls quaking as- 


See from who - laid the chunk, top. 


See caboodle, neck meat or nothin', 
whole shebang. 


See whittle whanging. 

quarter horse 

See short horse. 

quick-draw artist 

An expert in the art of drawing a gun 


Western Words 


See first rattle out of the box, pronto. 

quien sabe (ke-en' sah'bay) 

The cowman pronounces it kin' 'savvy. 
Spanish for Who knows? I donH know. 
Commonly used by all ranchmen, espe- 
cially when they admit that they have 
no information upon a subject. 


The cowboy's name for his cigarette. 


A flexible, woven-leather whip made 
with a short stock about a foot long and 

carrying a lash of three or four heavy, 
loose thongs. Its stock is usually filled 
with lead to strike down a rearing horse 
which threatens to fall backward, and 
it can also be effective as a blackjack. A 
loop extending from the head provides 
means of attachment to either the rider's 
wrist or the saddle horn. The word is 
derived from the Mexican ctiarta, mean- 
ing whip ; this, in turn, is from the Span- 
ish cuerda, meaning cord. (Philip A. 
Rollins, The Cowboy [New York, 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 137.) 


A slang name for a quirt. 


"Montana for bronc riders and hoss-thieves, 
Texas for ropers and rustlers" 


A crooked blaze on a horse's forehead. 


A word the cowboy frequently uses 
to mean to ride, the gait of a horse. 


Lying under a blanket or tarp with 
the knees stuck up. This is done by some 
cowboys sleeping in the open during a 
rain, thus making a watershed. 

rafter brand 

One having semi cone-shaped lines 
above the letter or figure, similar to the 
roof of a house. 


See fence lifter, goose drownder, 


When a horse bucks with bowed back 
and shaking head. 


To see someone or something in the 
distance, as, "He raised a posse comin' 
over the hill." 

raised on prunes and proverbs 

Said of a fastidious and religiously in- 
clined person. 

raised on sour milk 

Said of a crank or a disagreeable per- 


Synonymous with scratching. It gen- 
erally applies when the rider gives his 
legs a free swing, rolling the rowels of 
his spurs along the horse's sides from 
shoulder to rump, and is one of the 
highest accomplishments aspired to by 
bronc riders. 

ram pasture 

An occasional name for the bunkhouse. 

ran a butcher shop and got his 
cattle mixed 

Said of a rustler who had been caught. 


A top hand, a cowboy who is efficient. 


Either an entire ranching establish- 



ment including buildings, lands, and live- 
stock, or else the principal building, 
which usually is the owner's dwelling, 
or else the owner's dwelling together 
with other structures adjacent to it, or 
else the collective persons who operate 
the establishment. From the Spanish 
rancho, meaning farm, particularly one 
devoted to the breeding and raising of 
livestock. Used both as a verb and as a 


A man who operates a ranch. A title 
restricted to members of the proprietor 


See cattleman, corrida, cow crowd, 
cow folks, cowman, dogieman, white- 
collar rancher. 

ranchero (ran-chay'ro) 

Spanish for rancher, though a ran- 
chero is more commonly a Mexican, 
while a rancher may be either Mexican 
or American. 


See cap-and-ball layout, cocklebur 
outfit, dude ranch, dugout, floating out- 
fit, good lay, greasy-sack outfit, hacienda, 
haywire outfit, homestead, lay, layout, 
line-camp, one-horse outfit, op'ra house, 
outfit, ranch, shirttail outfit, sign camp, 
silk, siwash outfit, three-up outfit, tough 
lay, water rights. See also entries under 


Anyone connected with the running of 
a ranch; a word including employees as 
well as employers. 


Open country where cattle graze. 


See between hay and grass, bog holes, 
elbow room, free grass, green up, home 
range, hundred-and-sixty, open range, 
pothole, pup's nest, range, range count, 
range delivery, range riding, range 
rights, water hole, water rights. 

range boss 

A man who works mostly with com- 
pany-owned outfits. His work is to se- 

cure and protect the company's range, 
run its business, keep the men and wagons 
at work, and see that the cattle are bred 
up. He sees that fences are kept in repair, 
that the water supply functions, and does 
everything within his ability to better 
the interests of his employers. He has to 
be a leader of men and know horses, 
cattle, and the range to be successful. 
(John M. Hendrix, "Bosses," Cattleman, 
XXIII, No. 10 [March, 1937], 65-75.) 

range branded 

Said of cattle branded upon the range 
away from corrals. 

range bum 

A professional chuck-line rider. 

range count 

Counting each grazing bunch of cattle 
where it is found on the range and drift- 
ing it back so that it does not mix with 
the uncounted cattle. See fasture count. 

range delivery 

This means that the buyer, after ex- 
amining the seller's ranch records and 
considering his reputation for truthful- 
ness, pays for what the seller claims to 
own, then rides out and tries to find it. 
(Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New 
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 

range horse 

A horse born and bred on the range. 
With the exception of being branded, 
range horses are never handled until old 
enough to break. 

range pirate 

In the open-range days this term meant 
a man who turned stock loose on the 
range without owning open water and 
range in proportion to the cattle turned 

range riding 

See outriding. 

range rights 

The right to the use of a certain range 
in consequence of priority of occupation 
and continuous possession. 

range word 

When a cowman gives his range word, 
it can be safely taken as law and gospel. 


Western Words 

When trying to protect a friend or telling 
a "windy" to a tenderfoot, he can lie 
bigger and better than anyone else. To 
him, as one cowman said, "Ananias was 
jes' an ambitious amateur." But when he 
prefaces his remarks with "speakin' for 
the ranch" or "I'm givin' my range 
word for it," you can expect to hear the 


A top hand. Short for ranahan. 

rattle his hocks 

To travel at speed. 

rat-tailed horse 

One having a tail with little hair. 


The hide of a cow or steer (as noun). 
It was one of the most useful products 
of the pioneer cattleman. From it he 
made ropes, hobbles, clotheslines, bed- 
springs, seats for chairs, overcoats, trous- 
ers, brogans, and shirts. It patched sad- 
dles and shoes; strips of it bound loose 
wagon tires or lashed together pieces of 
broken wagon tongue, as well as substi- 
tuting for nails and many other things. 
To tease (as verb). 


A weak cow. 


See Mexican iron, rawhide, robe hide. 


This name was attached to a class of 
the early-day movers who traveled from 
one section of the West to another. Their 
outstanding characteristic was always 
having their wagons full of cowhides, 
which they cut into strips, and they used 
the whangs for every known purpose. 
The term was sometimes used with refer- 
ence to the operator of a small cattle 
ranch; also it was a name the northern 
cowboy called the Texan. 

rawhide lumber 

Unfinished slabs with the bark left on, 
usually cottonwood. 


The act of gathering cattle alone on 
the range with an individual camp out- 
fit, teasing. 

raw one 

The cowboy often uses this term in 
speaking of a green bronc. 


To make a motion as if to draw a 
gun; also used for the actual drawing 
of a gun. When a man goes after his 
gun, he does so with a single, serious 
purpose. There is no such thing as bluff. 
Every action is toward shooting as speed- 
ily and as accurately as possible, and 
making his first shot the last of the fight. 

reachin' for the apple 

Catching hold of the saddle horn dur- 
ing a ride. 

readin' sign 

The act of interpreting the markings 
in following a trail. One cowhand spoke 
of a good tracker as being able to "fol- 
low a wood tick on solid rock in the 
dark o' the moon"; another referred to 
one that "had a nose so keen he could 
track a bear through runnin' water"; 
and on one occasion Pima Norton spoke 
of a friend that "could track bees in a 

read the Scriptures 

To lay down the law, to give orders. 


When a bucking horse stands upon its 
hind legs, loses its balance, and falls 

rear cinch 

The hind one, if two. 

rear girth 

The Texan's name for the rear cinch. 

rear jockey 

The leather on top of the skirt of the 
saddle, fitting closely around the cantle. 

reata (ray-ah'tah) 

From reatar, to retie; Spanish, mean- 
ing a rofe which ties one animal to an- 
other. A rope, particularly one made of 
braided leather or rawhide. 


See get his hog back. 


The name by which cowboys of the 



Northwest call the mounted police of 

red disturbance 

A slang name for whiskey. Some of it, 
in the words of John West, "would make 
a muley cow grow horns." 


Another slang name for whiskey. 




Still another name for whiskey. 


Spurring, scratching. 


What the old-time trail driver called 
a drive that went "as fine as split silk" 
to the Wichita Mountains, and "hell 
broke loose" from there to the end of 
the drive. 


The change of guard for the herd. 

remittance man 

Usually socially outcast members of 
the nobility of England who came west 
to relieve their families of further em- 
barrassment. They were called this be- 
cause they depended for existence upon 
the remittance of money from their fam- 
ilies overseas. 

remuda (ray-moo'dah) 

From the Spanish remudar, meaning 
to exchange, re-exchange. Remuda de 
caballos means relay of horses. The cow- 
man uses the word to mean the extra 
mounts of each cowboy herded together 
and not at the time under saddle; also 
called remontha, this latter word a cor- 
ruption of the Spanish remonta. The 
word is pronounced remootha in the 
Southwest, but most Texas cowmen 
merely say hosses. The remuda is to 
the Southwest what the cawy is to the 
Northwest, though the northwestern 
cowboy usually called these horses the 
saddle band. 

A horse usually goes into the remuda 
when he is four years old. By the time 

he is six, he is fairly trained for cow 
work, but doesn't reach his full period 
of usefulness until he is about ten years 
old. Each year the remuda is culled of 
horses too old for the best work. A good 
and faithful cow horse is pensioned for 
a life of ease and grass; otherwise, the 
horse is sold for farm work. 

A good cowman knows that his outfit 
is no better than its horses, and he watches 
them closely. Every day he checks the 
horses and counts them out to the wran- 
gler. Each cowboy is responsible for the 
condition of his string, and the man who 
abuses his horses doesn't last long with 
the outfit. No horse is overworked, no 
horse overlooked. Each man realizes that 
the horse is his motive power and that 
his work is handicapped unless these 
horses are in top condition. 

A rule of all remudas is that all horses 
must be geldings. Mares are never a part 
of the remuda, because they are bunch- 
quitters and failures as saddle horses. As 
Charlie Russell said, "Lady hosses are 
like their human sisters. They get notions 
of goin' home, and no gentleman cayuse 
would think of lettin' a lady go alone." 
Stallions, on the other hand, fight and 
otherwise disturb a peaceful remuda. 

When the work is over in the fall, the 
remuda is turned out to run the range, 
rest, and heal their scars. A small portion 
of the horses are kept up to be grain fed 
and used by the men who remain to do 
what winter riding there is to be done. 
The average remuda holds from ninety 
to one hundred horses, a number neces- 
sary to mount a cow outfit of eight to 
ten men. 

remudera (ray-moo-day'rah) 

The Mexican name for a bell mare. 

remudero (ray-moo-day'ro) 

The Mexican name for a wrangler. 

renegade rider 

A cowboy employed to visit ranches, 
sometimes as far as fifty or more miles 
away, and pick up any stock branded 
with his employer's brand found any- 
where, taking it with him to the next 
ranch or range. He takes his gather to 
the home ranch as often as he can, 
changes horses, and goes again. 

I2 5 

Western Words 


A cowboy who represents his brand at 
outside ranches (as noun) ; to represent 
(as verb). Also called outside man or 
stray man. This cowboy's task developed 
from the efforts of ranch owners to re- 
cover their stray cattle. It became a regu- 
lar part of the open-range system to have 
one man of each ranch work with the 
roundup to look out for and carry along 
cattle in his employer's brand until he 
could return them to their home range, 
branding their calves in the roundup. 
He assisted in the work of the roundup, 
but his first duty was to look after the 
cattle of his brand. 

As a rule, the top hand of an outfit 
is given this enviable position and he is 
considered a notch higher than the com- 
mon puncher and gets more pay. He has 
to know brands, and the job is a respon- 
sible one. He likes the work because he 
can travel around, mingle with old 
friends, and make new ones in other out- 

When he reaches the outside limit of 
the drift from his company's range, he 
cuts from the day herd the cattle of his 
brand, takes his mount from the remuda, 
packs a horse with his bedroll and "drags 
it for home," driving his gather before 


See outside man, rep, rep's cut, stray 

rep's cut 

During the roundup the rep of an out- 
side ranch looked through the gathered 
cattle and designated which were of his 
brand. Then these were cut into a bunch 
called the rep's cut. 


See homeless as a poker chip, Junin' 


What the West calls the lines of a har- 
nessed team. 

rib up 

To persuade. 

rib wrenches 

A slang name for spurs. 

ride herd on 

To take care of. 

ride herd on a woman 

Said of one courting a woman. 

ride like a deputy sheriff 

To ride recklessly, in a hurry. 

ride over that trail again 

A request to explain more simply and 
more fully. 


See afoot, Bill-show cowboy, bog 
rider, bootblack cowpuncher, bronc 
breaker, bronc buster, bronc fighter, 
bronc peeler, bronc scratcher, bronc 
snapper, bronc squeezer, bronc stomper, 
bronc twister, brush buster, brush hand, 
brush popper, brush roper, brush thump- 
ers, brush whacker, buckaroo, bull-bat, 
buster, caballero, chuck-line rider, chop- 
pers, circle rider, contract buster, 
couldn't ride nothin' wilder'n a wheel 
chair, cowboys, drag rider, fence rider, 
flank rider, flash rider, glory rider, 
greasy-sack rider, grub-line rider, hand, 
hillbilly cowboy, jinete, kick-back rider, 
leather pounder, light rider, line rider, 
long rider, miller, mill rider, outrider, 
outside man, peeler, point rider, posse, 
pothole rider, puncher, renegade rider, 
rep, rough-string rider, saddle slicker, 
saddle stiff, saddle tramp, saddle warm- 
er, salty rider, scissor-bill, shadow rid- 
er, swing rider, tail rider, three-up 
screw, twister, vaquero, windmiller, 
windmill monkey. 

ridge runner 

A wild horse which keeps to ridges 
and high points to watch for danger and 
warn the herd. 

ridin' bog 

Riding the low range in the spring 
while cattle are in poor condition and 
extricating any animal which becomes 
bogged or mired in bog holes. 

ridin' circle 

The act, during the roundup, of 
searching out and driving before one all 
the cattle found over a wide range of ter- 
ritory to a designated holding spot. 

ridin' 'em down 

A trail expression signifying the grad- 



ual urging of the point and drag cattle 
closer together to put them on the bed- 

ridin' fence 

The duty of keeping the fences in re- 
pair. See fence rider. 

ridin' for the brand 

The cowboy never worked for a ranch ; 
the word work was suggestive of the day 
laborer. He rode for a certain outfit. 
Ridin' for the brand has a deep signifi- 
cance on the range. It means that the 
cowboy is loyal, tireless in looking after 
the interests of the brand, and willing 
to fight for it, even laying down his life 
for it, as long as he is riding for it. 


See bake, beefsteak, bicycling, bite the 
dust, breaking brush, business riding, 
cantle-boarding, cheeking, choke the 
horn, choke rope, claw leather, close seat, 
coasting on the spurs, comb, couldn't 
find his saddle-seat with a forked stick, 
curry him out, curry the kinks out, cut 
'er loose, daylightin', fanning, fannin' 
on her fat, gimlet, Give 'im air!, grab- 
bin' the apple, grabbin' the nubbin', 
grabbin' the post, hoppin' dog holes, 
huggin' rawhide, hunting leather, iron- 
ing him out, ironing out the humps, 
jiggle, jingling, knee grip, monkey 
style, nigger brand, peeling, plow-boy- 
ing, pulling bog, pull leather, put a kid 
on a horse, rack, reachin' for the apple, 
ride like a deputy sheriff, ridin' bog, 
ridin' circle, ridin' fence, ridin' for the 
brand, ridin' it out, ridin' line, ridin' on 
his spurs, ridin' safe, ridin' sign, ridin' 
slick, ridin' straight up, ridin' the ditch, 
ridin' the grub-line, ridin' the rough 
string, ridin' the shows, safety first, savin' 
saddle leather, scratching gravel, seeing 
daylight, set afoot, set the hair, settin' 
close to the plaster, settin' deep in his 
tree, settin' the buck, shakin' hands with 
grandma, sloppy riding, soundin' the 
horn, spiked his horse's tail, spur but- 
toning, squeeze the biscuit, squeezin' 
Lizzie, stay in one's tree, Stay with him ! , 
stickin' like a postage stamp, taking 
leather, three-legged riding, three sad- 
dles, thumbing, tied to the ground, tight- 
legging, top off, touchin' leather. 

riding aprons 

See armitas. 

ridin' herd on a woman 


ridin' into his dust 

Following someone or following an- 
other's lead. 

ridin' it out 

Staying with a bad horse until he is 

ridin' line 

Patrolling a prescribed boundary to 
look after the interests of an employer. 
See line riding. 

ridin' on his spurs 

Said when a rider hooks his spurs in 
the cinch, keeping them there during the 

ridin' out of town with nothin' 
but a head 

Said of one the morning after a big 
drunk. As one cowhand remarked, he 
"had a headache that's built for a hoss," 
and another declared he "had a taste in 
my mouth like I'd had supper with a 

ridin' safe 

Sitting close to the saddle, legs tightly 
clenched against the horse's sides, the 
spurs set firmly in the cinch. 

ridin' sign 

The act of riding the range to follow 
animals which have strayed too far and 
turn them back, or to pull cattle from 
bog holes, turn them away from loco 
patches, and do anything else in the in- 
terest of an employer. 

ridin' slick 

To ride without locked spurs or hob- 
bled stirrups, and without a saddle roll. 

ridin' straight up 

The rider sits straight up in the saddle, 
holding the reins in one hand, with the 
other hand in the air. 

ridin' the bag-line 

Synonymous with ridin' the grub-line. 

I2 7 

Western Words 

ridin' the bed wagon 

Laying off on account of sickness or 

ridin' the ditch 

Looking- after the water supply of an 
irrigation system. 

ridin' the grub-line 

The jobless cowboy's going from 
ranch to ranch and accepting meals with- 
out paying for them. Also called ridin' 
the chuck-line and ridin' the bag-line. 

ridin' the high-lines 

On the scout. Said of an outlaw. Many 
badmen were forced to ride trails "that'd 
make a mountain goat nervous." 

ridin' the owlhoot trail 

Said of an outlaw because he does much 
of his riding at night. 

ridin' the rough string 

Said of one whose job it is to break 
horses, and such a job "ain't like at- 
tendin' a knittin' bee." 

ridin' the shows 

Competing for prize money at rodeos. 
Said of a professional buster who follows 

ridin' under a cottonwood limb 

Said of a hanging; also of one com- 
mitting an act for which he deserves to 
be hanged. 

ridin' with an extra cinch-ring 

Said of a rustler or one suspected of 


Short name for saddle. 


The middle leathers attached to the 
tree of the saddle connecting with and 
supporting the cinch by latigos through 
the rigging ring. 

rigging ring 

The iron ring attached to the saddle 
for fastening the cinch; also called tree 
ring or saddle ring. 

right-hand man 



A comfort or blanket. 


Angry, stirred up. 

rim fire 

A saddle with one cinch, which is 
placed far to the front ; also called Span- 
ish rig and rimmy. 

rim firing a horse 

Putting a burr under the saddle blan- 
ket to make the horse pitch. One of the 
many pranks of cowboys. 

rim rockin' sheep 

Running sheep over a cliff to destruc- 
tion. This was often done during the 
wars between the cattle and the sheep 

rincon (rin-cone') 

In Spanish the word means a corner 
or secluded spot. The Southwesterner 
uses it to mean a nook, secluded place, 
or a bend in a river. (Harold W. Bent- 
ley, Dictionary of Spanish Terms in Eng- 
lish [New York, Columbia University 
Press, 1932], 197.) 

ring bit 

A bit with a metal circle slipped over 
the lower jaw of the horse. This cruel 
Spanish bit is not looked upon with favor 
by American cowmen. It can be extreme- 
ly severe unless handled carefully, and 
is hardly a bit for a man who loses his 


Angry, riled. 


See big swimming, boggy crossing, 
crossing, dugways, he'll do to ride the 
river with, over the willows, rincon, 
startin' the swim, swimming the herd, 
swimming water, watering the herd. 

river sniper 

A gold panner. 

road agent 

A robber, more commonly a robber of 

road agent's spin 

A gun spin made just the reverse of 
the single roll; sometimes called the 
Curly Bill spin. 



road brand 

A special brand of any design for trail 
herds as a sign of ownership en route. 
This brand helped the herders keep from 
mingling their herd with outside cattle 
and spiriting off their home range these 
animals of disinterested ownership. 
(Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New 
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 


This type of brand originated in Tex- 
as during the trail days when a law was 
passed that all cattle being driven beyond 
the northern limits of the state were to 
be branded by the drover with "a large 
and plain mark, composed of any mark 
or device he may choose, which mark 
shall be branded on the left side of the 
stock behind the shoulder." With the 
passing of trail driving, this brand was 
no longer used. 

road house 

A corral in an out-of-the-way place 
used by rustlers for the temporary hold- 
ing of stolen stock. 

road runner 

See chafarral bird,. 


A horse which shows a more or less 
uniform mixture of white and colored 
hairs over the entire body. If the ground 
color is sorrel, the color resulting is 
strawberry roan; if bay, it is red-roan; 
and if mahogany bay or black, it is blue- 
or black-roan. 


See stood up. 

robe hide 

When buffalo robes were popular, 
they were made from buffalo killed in 
winter when their hides were heavy. 
They brought much better prices than 
those from animals killed in other sea- 

rockin' chair horse 

One with an easy gait. 

rocking brand 

One resting upon and connected with 
a quarter-circle. 

Rocky Mountain canary 

Another name for a burro. 


The boss. 

roddin' the spread 

Bossing the outfit. 

rodeo (ro-day'o) 

Derived from the Spanish rodear (ro- 
day-ar'), meaning to encomfass, the act 
of encircling, and, in colloquial Mexi- 
can, signifying the rounding-up of cat- 
tle. In later days it referred strictly to 
cowboy contests. Recently the word has 
been used in two different senses and has 
two different pronunciations, as well as 
a different meaning from the original 
Spanish. The cowboy contest is common- 
ly called ro'de-o, while the roundup is 
called ro-day'o, and in the latter sense 
the word is rapidly becoming obsolete. 

Some rules of rodeo riding are: Only 
one rein is allowed, and it must be free 
from knots or tape and must not be 
wrapped around the hand. While mak- 
ing a ride, the rider must not change 
hands on the rein, and his rein hand 
must be held above the horse's neck. The 
rider must leave the chute with both feet 
in the stirrups and both spurs against the 
horse's shoulders. He must scratch ahead 
for the first five jumps, then behind. He 
has to stay on the horse and ride clean 
for ten seconds. If he loses a stirrup or 
touches leather with either hand, hits the 
horse with his hat, or looks cross-eyed 
at the judges, he is disqualified. 

Fanning a horse with the hat used to 
be considered spectacular, but modern 
rodeos forbid quirting, fanning, or even 
touching the animal with the hand. 

Rodeo Terms 

See bite 'em lip, blow a stirrup, blow 
the plug, boggin' 'em in, bulldog, bull- 
dogger, bull riding, bull riggin', calf 
roping, carnival hand, choke rope, chute 
crazy, close-to-the-ground bucker, Com- 
mittee saddle, crying room, cut 'er loose, 
final horses, flank riggin', get-away 
money, head and heel, hit the daylight, 
Hook 'em cow ! , hot shot, kick-back rid- 
er, locked spurs, loggerin', Look out, 
cowboy!, mad scramble, no time, out of 
the money, Pick him up!, pick-up man, 
Powder River! Let 'er buck!, Put 'em 
east and west, boy!, ridin' the shows, 
rodeo, runaway bucker, scratcher cinch, 


Western Words 

show bucker, snubber, snub horse, spur 
buttoning, sulker, sunfishing, time judge, 
twisting down, whistle judge, wild cow 


A corkscrew, wavelike motion of a 
rope, which, traveling along its end, 
lands on the object roped with a jar 
(Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New 
York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 
240). Many ropers use the roll to re- 
lease their nooses from the roped ani- 
mals when they desire to recover their 
ropes from grown cattle which have been 
heeled. See also saddle roll. 

Roll your bed! 

A command meaning that you are 

rolling a calf 

A method of throwing a calf for 
branding. This is a spectacular stunt re- 
quiring considerable strength and skill. 
It is somewhat dangerous and a very- 
tiring method of getting a calf down. 
It is accomplished by reaching over the 
back of the calf, catching it with one 
hand and at the same time jambing your 
leg in front of the calf. The cowboy 
does not resort to this method unless he 
wants to show off or there happens to be 
a girl visiting the wagon for the day. 
(Editorial, Cattleman, XXII, No. 1 
[June, 1935], 5-7.) 

roll the cotton 

To roll one's bed and move camp, to 
take a trip. 

rolls his gun 

Said when one starts shooting. 

rolls his own hoop 

Said of one attending to his own busi- 

roll his tail 

Another slang expression for leaving 
on the run. 

rolls it 

Roping slang. 

roll out 

A loop which is made by jerking the 
noose forward over the hand and wrist 

and releasing it so that it will roll out 
on edge, leaning somewhat to the right. 
It is usually only effective when thrown 
at animals passing in front of the roper 
toward his right. It can be used to fore- 
foot horses, but is better as a heel loop 
for cattle, a rather small loop being 
rolled under the belly of an animal and 
in position to catch both hind feet. (W. 
M. French, "Ropes and Roping," Cat- 
tleman, XXVI, No. 12 [May, 1940], 
17—30.) It also means to start with a 
wagon, or get up in the morning. 


A trick-roping term. These spins are 
started either vertically or horizontally, 
and the noose is made to roll over the 
shoulders or one or both arms. 

roll your wheels 

This term was used in the early days 
by freighters, bullwhackers, and mule 
skinners. It meant start your team, but 
by the time the cowman seized it for his 
own, it meant get goin' in any sense. 


A flexible whip made on the bridle 
reins when they are fastened together. 
In Spanish the word is spelled ramal and 
pronounced r-r-rah-mahV '. El ramal 
means literally a branch road, a division, 
or a ramification. Thus, attached as it is 
by the loop to the bridle reins, the romal 
becomes but a ramification of the rein, 
a handy addition that may be used as a 
quirt and dropped from the hand with- 
out fear of its getting lost. 




The cowboy's name for a hog. 


The most important tool of the cow- 
man, made of many different materials 
and serving many purposes. It catches 
his horse, throws his cattle, drags his 
wood to camp, pulls cattle from bog 
holes, and helps pull his wagons across 
rivers and rough places. It ties his bed 
up, helps in fighting prairie fires, secures 
his packs, stakes his horses, serves as a 
corral, is useful as a cow-whip, and is 
a weapon for killing snakes. It also serves 



as a guide in snow storms when tied 
from his bunkhouse door to the stable or 
the wood pile, and it was frequently- 
used to mete out frontier justice. With- 
out it the cowboy would be practically 
useless. It is said that he does everything 
with a rope except eat with it. There are 
truly many men who can do anything 
with a rope except throw it straight up 
and climb it. 

rope-and-ring man 

A rustler, given this name because he 
uses a rope and a cinch ring to run his 
illegal brands. I once heard a reformed 
rustler admit that he "quit rustlin' cows 
for the good of my gullet." 

rope corral 

A temporary corral at the cow camp, 
made by three or four cowhands holding 
ropes between them to form an obtuse 
U, and used to pen saddle horses until 
they can be caught for saddling. 

The corral is formed by using a heavy 
rope called a cable, held about three 
feet off the ground, either by men or, 
sometimes, by forked sticks. This seem- 
ingly makes a frail prison for a bunch 
of horses, but early in his life the range 
horse learns to respect the rope. He re- 
members the burns and falls he received 
when he was first thrown and branded. 
If a horse has not learned his lesson and 
breaks out of the corral a time or two, 
the top roper of the outfit is given the 
nod to "pick up his toes" the next time 
he breaks out. It may break the horse's 
neck, but the boss would rather have 
him dead than have him spoiling the 
other horses. Frequently the rope cable 
is shaken vigorously to remind the horses 
that it is a rope. 

As soon as the desired horses are 
caught, the rope is dropped and the re- 
maining horses are allowed to go back 
to grazing. This is done quietly, and all 
rushing or jamming is carefully avoided. 
Having performed its duty, the cable is 
coiled up and placed in the wagon to be 
ready for the next saddling. 

rope croup 

A hanging. 

rope horse 

A horse especially fitted for and trained 

in the work of roping. A man can learn 
to ride and do ordinary cow work in a 
short time, but to become a proficient 
roper requires years of practice; yet no 
matter how expert a roper may become, 
he will have small success without a good 
rope horse. 

The rope horse must have strength 
and intelligence, both well trained. Rop- 
ing requires the most skill and is the 
hardest and the most dangerous of all 
cow work. When the roped animal is 
"tied onto," the slightest pull on the reins 
causes the well-trained horse to sit back, 
hind feet well under him, forefeet braced 
well out in front to receive the shock. 
The slightest pressure on the side of the 
neck with the reins causes him to whirl 
instantly to face the catch. 

A good rope horse never allows a cow 
to get a side run on him, nor does he 
allow an inch of slack to let the rope 
wind him up. Experience has taught him 
the consequences of such blunders. The 
instant the roped animal falls, the horse 
will pull against the rope, dragging the 
dead weight along the ground. 

When running an animal to be roped, 
the educated rope horse knows when the 
cowboy takes down his rope and what is 
expected of him. He runs like the wind 
to the left side of the cow but never past 
her. There he sticks until his rider casts 
his rope ; then he "does his stuff." If the 
roper misses, he knows that too. At a 
roundup where a large crew is working, 
the top ropers and the top roping horses 
stand out above the rest. Any successful 
contest roper gives his horse most of the 
credit. As the late Will Rogers once said, 
"Contest ropin' is just like a marriage. 
It's a partnership affair between the roper 
and his mount." 

rope meat 

The victim of a hanging. 


See brush roper, dally man, ketch 
hand, rope tosser, small loop man, smooth 
roper, tie-hard, tie-man, tie-down man, 
tying fast. 


See cabestro, cable, catgut, choke rope, 
clothesline, coil, doll-babies, fling-line, 
hair rope, hemp, hoggin' rope, honda, 

I 3 I 

Western Words 

hot rope, ketch rope, lariat, lash rope, 
lasso, lass rope, lead rope, line, maguey, 
Manila, mecate, pepper-and-salt rope, 
picket rope, piggin' string, reata, rope, 
rope corral, running W, seago, skin 
string, sling rope, stake rope, string, tie 
rope, Tom Horn, twine, twitch, W, 
whale line. 

rope shy 

Said of a horse that jumps away from 
the rope when its rider is roping. 

rope tosser 

A roper, who, instead of swinging the 
rope around his head before throwing, 
spreads it out behind and to one side of 
him, and with a quick, graceful throw, 
or toss, launches it with unerring aim 
over the head of the animal at which he 
throws. This method is used almost en- 
tirely in catching calves out of a herd, 
as it is done so quietly and easily that the 
animal is snared before it has a chance 
to dodge or move. 

roping out 

Said when cowhands rope their mounts 
in a corral, catching them for saddling. 

Roping Terms 

See bedded, belly rope, Blocker loop, 
body spin, building a loop, butterfly, 
calf on the ground, calf on the string, 
calf roping, California twist, coffee 
grinding, community loop, complex spin, 
cotton-patch loop, dab, dally, diamond 
hitch, dog fall, fair ground, figure eight, 
forefooting, goin' down the rope, goin' 
over the withers, head and heel, head 
catch, heel, high-low, hog-tie, Hooley- 
ann, hop-skip, hornswoggling, hungry 
loop, jerked down, juggling, lay, man- 
gana, mangana de pie, merry-go-round, 
moonlight ropin', Mother-Hubbard loop, 
ocean wave, Old man him!, overhead 
loop, overhead toss, peal, pick up his 
hind feet, pick up his toes, pile it on, 
pull the trip, roll, roll out, roll-overs, 
rolls it, roping out, run on the rope, 
settin' spin, shakin out, sing, skipping, 
smear, snail, snare, snubbing, spread, 
stack it on, star gazing, steer busting, 
steer roping, stretchin' out, Texas tie, 
tying down, underhand pitch, washer- 
woman loop, waste a loop, wedding ring, 

rosadero (ro-sah-day'ro) 

A vertical, wide leather shield sewed 
to the back of the stirrup leather. 

rotten loggin' 

The comparatively rare practice by 
romantic couples of sitting on a log in 
the moonlight and "sparking." 

rough break 

To rope, choke down, blindfold, and 
saddle a green bronc, then mount, strip 
off the blindfold, dig in with the spurs, 
slam the horse with the quirt, and pro- 
ceed to fight it out. Many ranches follow 
this method of breaking horses, and three 
such rides by the buster are considered 
sufficient before turning the horse over 
to the cowboy. 

rough steer 

One of poor breeding and scrawny 

rough string 

A string composed of wild and semi- 
wild horses which fight every time they 
are saddled. Every ranch that raises its 
own horses has some which have never 
felt the saddle. 

rough-string rider 

A professional bronc buster. Of neces- 
sity all cowboys are good riders, but the 
men who handle the rough strings have 
to be bronc busters, and they draw down 
a few extra dollars per month for this 
perilous work. However, it is not so much 
the money that most of them care about 
as it is the honor. It is a sign of ability 
to say that you ride the first rough string 
for a large outfit. As one cowhand said, 
"The rider of the rough string maybe 
ain't strong on brains, but he ain't short 
on guts." 

Each man has his own way of break- 
ing a horse, but all good busters strive 
to break so that the horse's spirit remains 
unbroken, for a spiritless horse is worth- 
less. The buster strives to break quickly, 
as it means time and money to the boss. 
He is more interested in staying on the 
horse than in the manner of his perform- 
ance. His very calling demands that he 
stay on, as a matter of pride and because 
horses become outlaws when they can 
throw their riders. 

n 2 


round pan 

The large pan, or tub, which receives 
the dirty dishes after a meal at a cow 
camp. For a cowhand to fail to throw 
his dishes into this pan is a breach of 
range etiquette, and he will certainly be 
called names by the cook that would 
"burn the grass to cinders for yards 


An occasional name for the corral. 


The gathering of cattle, the cattle- 
man's harvest. The roundup was the 
most important function in cattle land. 
There were two a year, the spring round- 
up for the branding of the calf crop, and 
the fall roundup for the gathering of 
beeves for shipment and the branding of 
late calves and those overlooked in the 

Unlike most customs of the cattle 
country, the roundup is neither Spanish- 
Mexican nor Western-American in ori- 
gin. It originated in the mountain coun- 
try of Kentucky, Tennessee, the Caro- 
linas, and the Virginias. The people of 
those states let their cattle run loose and 
annually held roundups to gather them, 
but they performed the function in a 
haphazard sort of way. (Prose and Poetry 
of the Cattle Industry [Denver, 1905].) 
The western cowman perfected the sys- 
tem and brought it to the attention of 
the public as an important and colorful 
phase of the cattle industry. 

It is true that the early western at- 
tempts were crude and called cow hunts, 
or cow drives; but as the industry grew 
and spread over the West, it became the 
perfect system that we know today. When 
fences came, the vogue passed as an un- 
necessary pageant, but in the open-range 
days the roundup sometimes covered 
thousands of miles. Stockmen found it 
necessary for their mutual protection to 
take some co-operative action ; therefore, 
the roundup system was adopted and per- 
fected. It might vary in detail in differ- 
ent sections, but," in the main, roundups 
were essentially the same throughout the 
cattle country. 

Each ranchman of the district being 
worked furnished men and bore his share 

of the general expense, this share pro- 
portioned according to the number of 
cattle owned. Each ranch furnished a 
sufficient number of horses for its riders, 
but only the larger outfits sent chuck 
wagons. Each district was worked suc- 
cessively by ranges until each was cleaned 
up in regular rotation. At the end of the 
drive every owner knew by the carefully 
kept tally the increase of his herd and 
the number of older cattle he owned that 
had been gathered in by this raking of 
the range. 

The open roundup system lasted only 
a comparatively few years, but during 
its existence it was the event every cow- 
man looked forward to with interest and 
eagerness. Not only was it his harvest 
time, but it served as a reunion with old 
friends and a means of cultivating new 

roundup captain 

The man chosen to act as boss of a 
roundup. He was boss over all and his 
word was law, no matter if he did not 
own a hoof. The owners of the cattle 
were as much under his orders as any 
common puncher or horse wrangler. He 
knew all the brands of the country and 
had to be a diplomat to keep peace be- 
tween warring factions. He had to know 
men and cattle and select the right man 
for the right job, as well as the proper 
roundup grounds. Certain men knew cer- 
tain ranges better than others; accord- 
ingly he sent them out to scour these 
ranges for cattle. He selected from among 
the cowboys he knew to have good judg- 
ment as many lieutenants as he needed. 
These he put in charge of small units 
to run the cattle out of the brakes, 
arroyos, and other parts of the range. 
One cowboy's description of a roundup 
boss was, "He's the feller that never 
seems to need sleep and it makes 'im mad 
to see somebody that does." 

Roundup Terms 

See beddin' out, beef cut, beef round- 
up, blackballed outfit, book count, books 
won't freeze, brush roundup, bunch 
ground, calf roundup, choppers, comb- 
ings, covered his dog, cow camp, cow 
hunt, cut, cut-backs, cut of cows with 
calves, cutter, cutting out, fall roundup, 
gather, general work, greasy-sack ride, 


Western Words 

handbill roundup, holding spot, inner 
circle, laneing, lead drive men, moon- 
light 'em, moonshinin', moving camp, 
on circle, open roundup, outer circle, 
parada grounds, petalta, pilot, pool 
camp, pool roundup, pot-rack outfit, 
powders, prowl, rawhidin', rep's cut, 
rodeo, roundup, roundup captain, run- 
ning cattle, scattering the riders, shipped 
her, shove down, shotgun wagon, sleepin' 
out, smoking out the cattle, spring round- 
up, tellin' off the riders, throwing over, 
wagon boss, wasted 'er, work, working 
ahead of the roundup, working the herd. 


A man of all work around a cow camp. 


The wheel of a spur. 

run a brand 

To give or use a brand, to burn a 
brand on an animal with a running iron. 

runaway bucker 

A type of bucking horse. This type of 
bucker will, when the chute gate is 
opened, leave at a fast run instead of 
bucking. After traveling about fifty yards 
he will "break in two" and start bucking. 
Generally his first leap will be high and 
mighty, and if the rider is caught un- 
prepared, he does not have much chance 
of collecting prize money. When a horse 
is running his best, then leaps four or 
five feet into the air and comes down 
stiff-legged, he lights heavy. The fast 
forward motion stops so abruptly that 
the horse appears to shove himself back- 
wards as he hits the ground. This trick 
has caused many riders to meet their 
Waterloo. (Bruce Clinton, "Buckin' 
Horses," Western Horseman, III, No. 3 
[May-June, 1938], 10.) 

run down his mainspring 

Said of a runaway horse which is al- 
lowed to run until he quits of his own 

run like a Nueces steer 

A common Texas expression. It origi- 
nated from the fact that the wild cattle 
of the Nueces River country were excep- 
tionally speedy for cattle and endowed 
with an utter disregard for obstacles in 
their path. 


See burn the breeze, curled his tail, 
draggin' his navel in the sand, drag it, 
dust, fixin' for high ridin', flag his kite, 
fogging, goin' like the heel flies are after 
him, heating his axles, hell-for-leather, 
high-tail, hit the breeze, hit the trail, 
humped his tail at the shore end, jigger, 
lean forward and shove, made a nine in 
his tail, makin' far apart tracks, run 
down his mainspring, run like a Nueces 
steer, runnin' meat, stampede, take to the 
tall timbers, take to the tules. 

running brand 

A brand with flowing curves at its 

running cattle 

Working cattle, a rounding-up. 

running iron 

A branding iron made in the form of 
a straight poker or a rod curved at the 
end and used much in the free style of 
writing upon a blackboard with chalk. 
In the seventies Texas passed a law for- 
bidding the use of this iron in branding. 
This was a blow aimed at the brand blot- 
ter, whose innocent single iron would 
tell no tales if he were caught riding 
across the range. The law made an ob- 
ject of suspicion the man found with the 
single running iron, and he was some- 
times obliged to explain to a very urgent 

running mount 

Mounting a horse on the run without 
the use of the stirrups. 

running W 

A rope running from the hobbles to a 
ring in the cinch, making the letter W. 
Generally used on horses which ordi- 
narily run away. 

running wild 

Said of one dodging the law. Also 
means on a tear or ivkoofing it up. 

runnin' mate 

Used by the cowboy to refer to his pal 
or his wife. 

runnin' meat 

Said of a buffalo hunt. 



runnin' the outfit 

Said of the duties of the boss. 

run on the rope 

Said of an animal, especially a horse, 
when he starts away after being roped 
and is snubbed up violently. It is a part 
of the education of the range horse. 

run over 

A cattle guard built on a highway. It 
is made of green poles and sometimes 
covered with rawhide. 


Culled, wild, or lean cattle. 


To wrangle or herd horses, to steal 


This word was first used as a synonym 
for hustle, becoming an established term 
for any person who was active, pushing, 
and hustling in any enterprise; it was 
used as a name for the wrangler ; and, as 
verb, meant to herd horses. Later the 
word became almost exclusively applied 
to a cattle thief, starting from the days 
of the maverick when cowboys were paid 
by their employers to "get out and rustle 
a few mavericks." These same cowboys 
soon became interested in putting their 
own brands upon motherless calves to 
get a start in the cattle business, and this 
practice was looked upon as thievery. 
Thus the word connoted a thief. Texans, 

however, prefer the blunter term cow 

Winter is open season on the rustler, 
as then he is busiest. Dodging range rid- 
ers, he rides through the grazing cattle, 
picking up big calves that had been 
missed during the summer and fall brand- 

Rustlers and Rustling 

See blot, botch, brand artist, brand 
blotter, burnin' rawhide, careless with 
his brandin' iron, Cattle Kate, decoy 
herd, didn't keep his twine on the tree, 
droop-eyed, hair brand, hide with a 
stovepipe hole, His calves don't suck the 
right cows., His cows have twins., hot 
foot, kept his brandin' iron smooth, long 
rope, mavericker, maverick factory, 
mavericking, packs a long rope, picked 
brand, pins crape on the kid, ran a butch- 
ershop and got his cattle mixed, ridin' 
with an extra cinch ring, road house, 
rope-and-ring man, rustler, rustling, 
sleeperin', slow brand, sticky rope, swing 
a wide loop, tongue splitter, too handy 
with the rope, waddy, wave 'round, 
working ahead of the roundup, working 

rustle the pasture 

To bring in the saddle horses. 


Stealing cattle. 

rust the boiler 

To drink alkaline water. 

"// the saddle creaks, it's not paid for" 

sabinas (sah-bee'nas) 

A Spanish word used to describe cattle 
of red and white peppered and splotched 

sabino (sah-bee'no) 

Usually used in referring to a horse 
with a peculiar shade of light reddish, 

almost pinkish, roan-colored body and 
pure white belly. 

sachet kitten 

Cowboy's name for a skunk. 


To filip a blanket at a horse to get him 
used to it. 


Western Words 

sacked his saddle 

Said when a cowman dies. The saying 
arose from the cowman's custom, when 
returning home by train from a trail 
trip, of placing his saddle in a grain 
sack to be checked. When he died, this 
figure of speech was used to convey the 
thought that he was now on the return 
journey to his eternal home. 


A saddle blanket (as noun) ; filiping 
a blanket or cloth about a horse (as verb). 

sacking out 

Tying the hind leg of a horse up and 
waving a saddle blanket about him to 
gentle him for saddling. 

S. A. Cowboy 

A dude wrangler, short for Show 
About Cowboy. 


See daunsy, tear squeezer. 


A seat for a man on horseback. The 
stock saddle is built to fulfill the cow- 
boy's requirements in cattle work, and 
the slight variations in shape cause spe- 
cial names to be given to these saddles 
according to the shape of their trees. 
Many changes and improvements have 
been made in saddles through the years. 

saddle a dead horse on him 

To burden one with an unwelcome 


See acion, alforja, anquera, aparejo, 
apple, apple-horn, Association saddle, 
back jockey, bag pannier, basto, bear- 
trap, billet, biscuit, box pannier, bronc 
saddle, bronc tree, bucking rim, bucking 
roll, buck strap, bulldogs, California 
rig, California skirts, cantinesses, cantle, 
cantle drop, center-fire, Cheyenne roll, 
chicken saddle, cinch, cinch ring, Com- 
mittee saddle, contest saddle, corus, cross- 
buck, dinner plate, dish, dog-house stir- 
rups, double barreled, drop stirrup, 
eagle-bill, empty saddle, fenders, five- 
eighths rig, flank girth, flank riggin', 
fork, form-fitter, front jockey, full- 
rigged, full-seat, full-stamp, fuste, geld- 

ing smacker, girth, gullet, half-rigged 
saddle, handle, hobbled stirrups, hog 
skin, horn, horn string, hull, kack, Ketch 
my saddle!, kidney pad, kyack, latigo, 
leg jockey, lizzy, mochila, monkey 
nose, montura, Mother-Hubbard saddle, 
muley saddle, nigger-catcher, nubbin', 
open stirrups, ox-bows, ox-yokes, pack 
covers, packsaddle, pancakes, pelter, 
petate, pig, pimple, postage stamp, pump- 
kin-seed saddle, rear cinch, rear girth, 
rear jockey, rig, rigging, rigging ring, 
rim fire, rosadero, saddle, saddle blanket, 
saddle ring, saddle roll, saddle strings, 
salea, seat, seat jockey, seven-eighths rig, 
side jockey, single-barreled, single-fire, 
single-rigged, skeleton rig, skirt, slick 
fork, slick saddle, soak, stirrups, stirrup 
leathers, strainer, strings, sudadero, swell- 
fork, tack-berry buckle, tapadero, tarra- 
bee, teeth in the saddle, terrapin, Texas 
skirt, three-quarter rig, three-quarter 
seat, trap, tree, trunk strap, visa, whang 
strings, wood, xerga. 

saddlebag doctor 

The doctor of the early frontier who 
carried his medicine and implements in 
saddlebags as he rode over the range 
calling upon his patients. 

saddle band 

This term is commonly used in the 
Northwest for the remuda or cavvy of 
saddle horses. 

saddle blanket 

The blanket placed upon the horse's 
back beneath the saddle; also a slang 
name for griddlecakes. One good blanket 
is all that is necessary for a horse. Too 
much padding under the saddle makes 
him sweat unduly, and an overheated 
back becomes tender. After the saddle is 
thrown on and before it is cinched up, 
a couple of fingers should be inserted 
under the blanket where it comes over 
the withers to work up a little slack. 

saddle-blanket gambler 

A term applied to a cowboy addicted 
to gambling around the campfire on a 
saddle blanket, a small-time gambler. 
Charlie Russell used to say (Trails 
Plowed Under), "You can tell a saddle- 
blanket gambler's luck by the rig he's 
ridin'." Rowdy McCloud, a friend of 

I 3 6 


mine with a weakness for cards, told me 
of his "settin' up all night tryin' to find 
somethin' better than some very young 
clubs," in a game where the dealer 
"seemed to know both sides of the cards 
the way luck set on his shirt-tail." His 
opponents, said Rowdy, "kept showin' 
me hands that looked as big as a log 
house and after that session I could count 
my coin without takin' it from my 

saddle gun 

A rifle or Winchester carried in the 
saddle scabbard. See saddle scabbard. 


A man who makes saddles, an easy- 
gaited horse. 

saddle ring 

A metal ring fastened to the tree of the 
saddle from which the latigo straps hang. 

saddle roll 

A roll of blankets tied across the sad- 
dle just behind the fork to help wedge 
the rider in the saddle. 

saddle scabbard 

A heavy saddle-leather case in which 
to carry a rifle or Winchester when rid- 
ing. The gun fits in as far as the ham- 
mer, leaving the stock exposed. The 
favorite way of carrying the gun is to 
loop the front strap at the very end of 
the scabbard over the saddle horn, while 
the other end, or barrel section, is merely 
slipped through a loop formed by a sec- 
ond strap from the back rigging ring 
on the saddle. To take off both rifle and 
scabbard, all that is necessary is to slip 
the front strap off the horn and slide the 
whole thing out of the back loop. The 
height of the scabbard must be adjusted 
to come at the bend of the knee. Most 
riders carry the gun on the left side, 
butt to the front. This arrangement al- 
lows them to have the gun on the same 
side when they get off to shoot. 

saddle slicker 

A slang name for the cowboy. 

saddle stiff . 

Another slang name for the cowboy. 

saddle strings 

Little rawhide strings which hold the 

saddle leathers together. The ends are 
tied and left hanging, allowing packages 
to be tied on as well as serving as a 

saddle tramp 

A professional chuck-line rider. 

saddle warmer 

A man employed in riding horseback, 
a cowboy. 


See blinder, cinch up, laced his tree 
up, put leather on his horse, slappin' his 
tree on, teeth in the saddle. 

safety first 

Holding the saddle horn when riding 
a bucking horse. 


A slope. 


A resident of a remote place, a tourist. 

sagebrush philosopher 

A loquacious Westerner. 

sage hen 

A nickname for a woman. 


Being forced to stay overnight in the 
desert without blankets. 

sage rat 

A resident of the arid land, a prospec- 


The rustler's contemptuous name for 
a loyal cowboy. 

salado (sah-lah'do) 

Americanized to salowed and said of a 
wind-broken horse. 


A raw and softened sheepskin placed 
on a pack animal's back for padding be- 
neath a packsaddle. 


To liquidate, to shoot full of holes. 


A nickname for the cook. 


Western Words 


See bar-dog, deadfall, gaboon, sober 
side of the bar, water hole, wearin' cal- 
louses on his elbow, whiskey mill. 


When this word is used in speaking 
of a man, it means he is a good hand, 
of a horse, it means he is a hard bucker. 
The word is also used in the sense of 
showing fight and aggression. I heard 
one cowhand speak of another's being 
"salty as Lot's wife"; and another spoke 
of one's being "salty as Utah." 

salty bronc 

A mean horse. 

salty dog 

This name applies to anyone especially 
good or a master in his line of endeavor. 

salty rider 

One with guts. 

sanchos (sahn'chos) 

The Mexican name for dogies, scrub- 
by calves. 


Courage. Skeets Moore characterized 
a friend with, "His craw was plumb full 
o' sand and fightin' tallow" ; and a cow- 
hand in Wyoming spoke of another's 
having " 'nough sand for a lake front." 

sand cutter 

A native of Kansas. 

sand eel 

An occasional name for a snake. Spade 
Kruger used to tell of a section of the 
country where "y'u have to parade 'round 
on stilts to keep from gettin' bit." Cactus 
Price concluded another tale by saying, 
"That's the biggest snake I ever seen 
without the aid o' likker." 


Cowboy's name for a hitchhiking 

savin' money for the bartender 

Riding a freight train to save fare. 

savin' saddle leather 

Standing up in the stirrups and rid- 
ing so that the rider's seat does not touch 

the seat of the saddle. Tenderfoot riders 
sometimes ride this way to ease their 
saddle sores. 


From quien sabe. Knowledge, under- 
standing. A man with plenty of savvy is 
said to be as "smart as a bunkhouse rat," 
as "wise as a tree full of owls," or as 
"full of information as a mail-order 
catalog." Used as a query it means Do 
you understand? 


A doctor. Most of the frontier doctors 
were "right there with a parin' knife 
when it comes to minin' for lead." 

sawdust in his beard 

Said of one shot down in a saloon. 

scab herder 

Cowboy's name for a sheepherder, 
especially a Mexican. 


A worthless cut-back, generally wild 
and old ; also applied to humans, but not 
with reference to their age. 

scalawag bunch 

A group of horses which are mean 
and hard to handle, the rough string. 

scamper juice 

Slang name for whiskey. 


See booger, spook. 


Cowboy's name for a shotgun. Every 
Westerner has a deep respect for the scat- 
ter-gun, especially if it is loaded with 
buckshot. In western parlance, "Buck- 
shot means buryin' ever' time"; "buck- 
shot leaves a mean and oozy corpse"; 
and "absorb a load o' buckshot and 
they'll have to pick y'u up with a blot- 

scattering the riders 

When the roundup captain gives direc- 
tions to the men starting on circle to 
drive cattle in from the surrounding 
country, designating which section each 
man or group of men shall cover. When 
the riders stop to receive these orders, 

I 3 8 


they dismount to reset their saddles and 
air their horse's backs a little before re- 
cinching for the hard ride ahead. The 
men are sent in pairs. A man unfamiliar 
with the country will be paired with one 
who knows that particular range; one 
riding an unreliable horse will be ac- 
companied by one riding a more trust- 
worthy one. 


One who does not do his work well. 


Slang name for the branding iron. 

scotch hobble 

A hobble made with a large loop that 
will not slip, placed around the horse's 
neck and arranged so that a bowline knot 
lies back on one shoulder. The long end 
of the rope is then placed around a hind 
leg just below the ankle joint and the 
end is run back into the neck loop and 
tied, just short enough so that the foot, 
when the animal is standing, will be 
three or four inches off the ground. To 
keep the horse from kicking out of the 
rope, it is usually necessary to take an 
extra turn about the ankle or twist the 
rope back on itself. A half-hitch on the 
ankle will stay on, but as the cowboy 
says, "You'll play hell gittin' it off." 


To spur a horse backward and for- 
ward while riding. 

scratcher cinch 

A strap or cinch which fastens far 
back around the horse's flank; used in 
rodeos to make the horse buck. See flank 


The act of keeping the feet moving in 
a kicking motion when riding a bucking 
horse, one of the acts necessary to win 
at a real bucking contest ; using the spurs 
in a raking motion along the horse's 

Stan Adler, in Hoofs and Horns, told 
this amusing little story: "Every year 
some of them platinum haided leedle 
gals from Hollywood movie studios come 
to the Old Pueblo to take in the rodeo 
an' they shore get bronc idees about what 
it's all about. Like the time the bareback 

rider come out on one of them big Brah- 
ma bulls an' rode him right purty and 

" 'Dang, he's a-scratching' that crit- 
ter a-plenty,' says one of them old wad- 
dies in the stands. 

"'Ain't that plumb kind of him?' 
pipes up one of them leedle blond movie 
gals. 'The way that old cow is wrigglin' 
she must be itchin' somethin' scandal- 
ous.' " 

scratching gravel 

Climbing a steep bank on horseback. 

screwing down 

The act of sinking the spurs into the 
cinch while riding a bucking horse and 
failing to move the feet in a kicking 
motion as provided by rodeo rules. 


An animal that does not grade high in 
breeding and flesh. 


From la soga. A rope. Applied more 
particularly to a loosely twisted hemp 
rope which is used for lassoing purposes. 

sea lions 

A name given the early-day long- 
horned cattle "that came right out of 
the Gulf" of Mexico. They could swim 
like ducks and were as wild. (J. Frank 
Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country 
[Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 20.) 

seam squirrels 

The cowboy's name for body lice. 
When one cowhand I knew spoke of an- 
other "a-settin' on the side of his bunk 
readin' his shirt by lamplight," we knew 
what he was talking about. 

sea plum 

The cowboy's name for an oyster. 


That part of the saddle upon which 
the rider sits, said to be the easiest to 
find, but the hardest to keep. 

seat jockey 

The flat leather plate overlying the 
stirrup leather when the latter issues 
from the seat of the saddle. Same as leg 


Western Words 


See look-see, raise. 

seeing daylight 

A term applied when a rider leaves 
his seat with each jump of the horse, so 
that spectators can see between rider and 

segundo (say-goon" do) 

Spanish, meaning second, immediately 
following the first. The assistant trail 
boss, or second in command. 

sendero (sen-day'ro) 

Spanish for footpath. A trail, path, 
or clearing. Commonly used in the 

send up a smoke 

A colloquialism for giving a warn- 
ing or making a signal. Founded upon 
Indian smoke signals, a method of dis- 
tant communication. 


A herd of wild mares with stallion. 

set afoot 

Said when, from any cause, a cowman 
loses his horse and has to walk back. 

set back 

To pull back. 

set brand 

A brand made with an iron, the de- 
sign of which has been made in one piece. 

set down 

Being fired from a job without having 
a horse to ride away. In the early days, 
if a man thus fired had no private horse, 
this manner of firing often ended in gun 
smoke. Most ranchers recognized the seri- 
ousness of "settin' a man afoot" and 
lent him a company horse to ride to 
town. There he could leave the horse at 
a livery stable or turn him loose to find 
his way back to the home range. 

set fast 


set his gun goin' 

To start shooting. 

set the hair 

To ride a horse long enough to take 
the meanness out of him. 

settin' close to the plaster 

Keeping a close and firm seat in the 

settin' deep in his tree 

An expression signifying that the one 
spoken of is a good, dependable, and 
trustworthy hand. 

settin' on his arm 

Said when a tenderfoot tries to mount 
a horse with one hand on the horn and 
the other on the cantle of the saddle. 
Never attempt to mount a horse in this 
manner. Not only does it brand you a 
novice, but it is the most awkward and 
ungraceful way to climb aboard a horse. 
If the horse starts off as soon as you 
swing off the ground — and most western 
horses do — you will land behind the 
saddle and not in it, and that may mean 
you will get bucked off. 

settin' spin 

A trick-roping term. It means jump- 
ing in and out of a spinning noose from 
a sitting position. 

settin' the bag 

Courting; also called settin' } er. Bud 
Taylor used to say, "That naked little 
runt with the Injun's shootin' iron can 
shore booger up a good peeler." 

settin' the buck 

Riding a bucking horse successfully. 

seven-eighths rig 

A saddle with the cinch placed be- 
tween the Spanish, or rim fire, and the 
three-quarter rig. 

seven over-bit 

An earmark made by cutting the ear 
straight down near the tip for about an 
inch on the top side, then from near the 
upper base of the ear, making the cut 
slope to meet the straight-down first cut. 

seven under-bit 

An earmark made like the seven over- 
bit except it is made on the lower side 
of the ear. 


Slang name for the bunkhouse. 

shad bellied 

Lean flanked. 




Often when a cowboy is riding the 
range, if he finds a shady spot, he will 
dismount and loosen his cinches to give 
his horse's back some air. If the horse is 
reliable, he takes the bits from its mouth 
to allow it a few mouthfuls of grass. 
Perhaps he takes this opportunity to re- 
move his own boots and straighten the 
wrinkles in his socks, to smoke a ciga- 
rette or two and dream of the future. 
(John M. Hendrix, Editorial, Cattle- 
man, XXI, No. 12 [May, 1935], 5.) 

shadow rider 

A cowboy who rides along gazing at 
his own shadow with admiration. Mir- 
rors are sometimes scarce on the range, 
and some fellows must admire themselves 
even though only by watching their shad- 
ows. Cloudy days have no silver linings 
for this type of cowboy. Speaking of a 
fancy cowboy whom the other riders 
called Pretty Shadow, Charlie Russell 
said, "When the sun hit him with all 
his silver on, he blazes up like some big 
piece of jewelry. You could see him 
for miles when he's ridin' the high coun- 
try." (Charles M. Russell, Trails Plowed, 
Under [Garden City, Doubleday Doran, 
1935]) 5-) 


The cowboy's name for his bed. 

shakin' a hoof 

Dancing. At many cowboy dances 
there were some religious fellows who 
could not stand temptation and were soon 
"dancin' themselves right out o' the 
church." There were others, too, scat- 
tered through the crowd, who were 
"cussin' the blisters on their feet and the 
new boots that made 'em, but they wasn't 
missin' a dance, even if their feet was 
on fire." 

shakin' hands with grandma 

Synonymous with fulling leather. 

shakin' hands with St. Peter 

The cowboy's reference to death. 

shakin' out 

Opening the noose of a rope with a 
few quick jerks toward the front, as the 
right hand grasps the rope at the honda. 

This is done in preparation for making 
a cast. 


That part of the spur to which the 
rowel is fastened. 

shank of the afternoon 

Late afternoon, near the close of day. 

shape up 

To put into an orderly condition. 


An earmark made by cutting an over- 
slope and an under-slope upon the same 
ear, giving it a sharp or pointed appear- 
ance. One of the sayings of the West is, 
"When you see a man grubbin' and 
sharpin' the ears of his cows, you can 
bet he's a thief." 

sharpen his hoe 

To thrash one. 

sharpen his horns 

Said of one who works himself into a 
fit of anger or a fighting mood. 


A heavy caliber, single-shot, lever- 
action rifle commonly used on the fron- 
tier, and a favorite until the "repeater" 
took its place. Very early models were 
made with the percussion cap. All were 


A buyer of cattle, who is neither a 
feeder nor a commission man, but who 
buys up small bunches of cattle for a 


In the northern cattle country it is the 
custom to "pull" the tails of broken 
horses. Then, when they are turned loose 
to run the range and mix with the un- 
broken horses, the riders who want to 
gather them for the next season's work 
can tell them from the wild ones at a 
distance. These horses are called shave- 
tails to distinguish them from the broom 
tails, or long bushy-tailed horses. When 
a rider of Montana or Wyoming says he 
is "making shavetails," a fellow cow- 
hand knows that he is breaking horses, 
for when a buster gives a horse his last 

I 4 I 

Western Words 

ride, he pulls his tail as a sign that he 
is broken. (Bud Cowan, Range Rider 
[Garden City, Doubleday Doran, 1930], 


See baa-a-ah, cooking mutton, hoofed 
locust, maggots, maniac den, movin' 
sheep, rim rockin' sheep, sheeped out, 
underwears, wagon herder, walkin' 
sheep, woolies. 


The rustler's contemptuous name for 
a loyal cowboy. 

sheeped out 

Said when a cowman is forced to move 
on account of the influx of sheep. Steve 
Gates told of one range being "so ag'in' 
sheep I wouldn't ride through it with a 
wool shirt on." 


One who herds or tends sheep. The 
cowman never called him a shepherd. 
Since Christ was a shepherd, that word 
sounded too pastoral and honored, and 
the cowman had anything but Christlike Snipper her 
feelings toward the sheepman. As one 
cowboy said, "There ain't nothin' dumb- 
er than sheep except the man who herds 

delivered 'cause the company sends ever'- 
thing postfaid." 

she stuff 

A term used to designate cattle of the 
feminine gender. 


A cowboy dance. A cowboy dance 
usually lasts all night. When it breaks 
up at daylight, the ladies retire to "fresh- 
en up their spit curls and chalk their 
noses," and "sort out the weaners that's 
beginnin' to stir off the bed-ground" in 
the next room. The old bowlegs on the 
dance floor pass the last bottle around, 
saving a big drink for the fiddler to get 
him to play a final tune. Then they throw 
a stag dance "that's apt to be kinda rough 
and end up in a'wrastlin' match." Like 
a horse with plenty of bottom, these old 
saddle slickers just won't tire down. But 
finally, having no more wet goods to 
bribe the fiddler with, they call the dance 
a success and limp to the kitchen for a 
final cup of coffee, their feet feeling "like 
they'd wintered on a hard pasture." 

Sheep Men 

See lamb licker, mutton puncher, scab 
herder, sheep herder, sheep puncher, 
snoozer, wagon herder. 

sheep puncher 

The cowboy's occasional name for a 


A canvas used as a wagon sheet. 


A nickname for the cook. 

shepherd's Bible 

Common name for a mail-order cata- 
log. There is a story of one cowboy who 
fell for a picture of a girl in one. Think- 
ing that everything he saw pictured was 
for sale, he sat down and ordered her 
for a wife, fluffy dress and all, "if she 
wasn't already took." Then he bragged 
of how "it won't cost nothin' to have her 

A common expression used when a 
puncher runs off after a cow and comes 
back without her. When he admits his 
defeat, the foreman does not hold it 
against him. He knows the puncher did 
his best. Punchers are that kind of men. 
The other kind don't last long. 


See prod pole, shipping close, ship- 
ping point, shipping trap. 

shipping close 

Shipping every head of cattle fit for 
market that could be gathered from the 

shipping point 

A railroad station from which cattle 
are shipped to market. 

shipping trap 

A small pasture located near a ship- 
ping chute and used to hold cattle before 
being shipped. 

shirttail outfit 

A small ranch which employs only 
one or two men. 




A horseshoe with calked heel is called 
a shoe to distinguish it from a slipper or 
a boot. 

shook a rope at him 

An expression meaning that the one 
referred to had been warned of his mis- 
conduct and that his fate would rest upon 
his future behavior. 

shootin' 'em out 

Getting cattle out of a corral and on 
the range. 


See ambush, build a smoke under his 
hoofs, burn powder, carvin' scollops on 
his gun, case of slow, come a-smokin', 
corpse and cartridge occasion, crease, 
'dobe wall, dry gulch, fanning, flip-cock, 
fort up, fumble, gunnin' for someone, 
gun slinging, gut shot, hip shooting, hot 
lead, I'll shoot through the water barrel 
and drown you, kidney shot, lead poi- 
soned, leaned against a bullet goin' past, 
leather slapping, makin' the town smoky, 
paunched, Pecos, plug, powder burnin' 
contest, put windows in his skull, rolls 
his gun, set his gun goin', singed, slip 
shooting, smoke one out, smoke up, 
smoking out the cattle, throw gravel in 
his boots, throw lead, treeing the mar- 
shal, trigger is delicate, trigger itch, un- 
ravel some cartridges. 

shootin' iron 

A slang name for a gun. 

shoots his back 

Said when a horse bucks. 

shore had tallow 

Plenty fat; as one cowboy said, "beef 
plumb to the hocks." 

short bit 

A dime, ten cents. 

shorten his stake rope 

To place one at a disadvantage, to 
cramp one's style. 


One not native to the cattle country, a 
tenderfoot, a breed of cattle with short 
horns, such as the Hereford. 

short horse 

An old name for the quarter-of-a- 
mile race horse, now commonly called 
quarter horse. 

short-trigger man 

A badman, a gunman. 

short yearling 

A calf which lacks a little of being a 
year old. 

shotgun cavvy 

A band of saddle horses made up of 
the mounts of many different ranches on 
the same roundup. 

shotgun chaps 

So called because sewing the outside 
seam together all the way down the leg 
made them look like the twin barrels of 
a shotgun, with a choke at the muzzle. 
This style proved more comfortable on 
the windy northern ranges than the bat- 

shotgun wagon 

When a few ranchers got together and 
sent out a roundup wagon independent 
of the larger outfits, it was called a shot- 
gun wagon. 

shoulder draw 

A draw made from a shoulder holster 
under the arm pit. It is essentially a 
cross draw. 

shove down 

This term is used in certain mountain 
ranges when, during the fall months, 
cattle are rounded up from the higher 
country and shoved down into the val- 
leys or lower country to winter. 

shove in the steel 

To spur a horse. 

show bucker 

A horse that bucks hard, straight away, 
with nose between front legs, though not 
difficult to ride. In rodeos he looks good 
from the grandstand, but is never used 
in the semifinals. 

show up on the skyline 

To come into view, to appear. 


A cigarette made with corn husk for 


Western Words 

wrapping, a slang name for a Mexican ; 
as a verb, it means to discard, as, "He 
shucked his chaps." 

si (see) 

Spanish for yes, without a doubt in- 
deed. Used commonly in colloquial par- 
lance in the Southwest. 


See airin' the paunch, case of worms, 
epizootic, Job's comforters, ridin' the 
bed wagon, salado, Spanish fever, split- 
ting the tail, Texas fever, week on the 
bed wagon. 

side jockey 

The leather side extensions of the seat 
of the saddle. 


To tie together with hobbles the front 
and the hind foot on the same side of an 
animal to prevent it from traveling at 


A rattlesnake, usually found in the 
desert, which strikes by swinging its 
head and part of its body to the left and 
the right; also used in speaking of hu- 
mans of little principle. 


Tracks and other evidence of their 
passing left by animals or men. 

sign camp 

A building or dugout where the cow- 
boy sleeps and cooks his meals while line 

sign language 

The cowman adopted this from the 
Indian. It is quite often a convenient 
method of communication. The trail 
boss who had ridden ahead to look for 
water need not ride all the way back to 
the herd to give directions. On the hori- 
zon he could give these directions with 
his hat or his hands. The wagon boss 
of a roundup could likewise give signs 
which saved him much riding. 


A slang name for barbed wire. 

silver thaw 

Rain which freezes as it hits. 


A preacher. Old man Hobbs used to 
say, "A heap o' folks would do more 
prayin' if they could find a soft spot for 
their knees." 


Said of the hissing sound made by a 
rope when thrown. 


Said when one receives a flesh wound 
from a bullet. 

singin' to 'em 

Standing night guard. This is the time 
when the cowboy does most of his sing- 
ing, and night herding came to be spoken 
of almost entirely as singin' to 'em. 

One day while I was discussing cow- 
boy songs with a group of punchers, one 
of them offered the following disillusion- 
ing comment : "A heap o' folks make the 
mistake of thinkin' a puncher sings his 
cows to sleep. He's not tryin' to amuse 
nobody but himself. In the first place, he 
don't have any motherly love for them 
bovines. All he's tryin' to do is keep 'em 
from jumpin' the bed-ground and run- 
nin' off a lot o' tallow. In the second 
place, these brutes don't have no ear for 
music, which is maybe a good thing be- 
cause the average puncher's voice and the 
songs he sings ain't soothin'. Mostly he 
has a voice like a burro with a bad cold, 
and the noise he calls singin'd drive all 
the coyotes out o' the country." 

Another offered the opinion, "Mostly 
the songs he sings are mighty shy on 
melody and a heap strong on noise, but 
a man don't have to be a born vocalist 
to sing when he's alone in the dark if 
he's got a clear conscience and ain't 
hidin' out." 

Another advised that at the change of 
guard, the new man had to sing as he 
approached the herd so that he "wouldn't 
bulge up on 'em unawares 'cause the con- 
fidence a steer's got in the dark's mighty 
frail, and once spooked they'll leave a 
bed-ground quicker'n y'u can spit and 
holler howdy." 

singin' with his tail up 

Said of a happy and carefree person. 


A name given a one-cinch saddle. 

[ 44 


single fire 

Another name for the one-cinch saddle. 


Still another title for the saddle men- 
tioned above. 

single roll 

Spinning a gun forward on the trig- 
ger finger, cocking and releasing the 
hammer as it comes under the web or 
lower part of the thumb. 


Slang name for biscuits. 


See bogged to the saddle skirts, hair 
in the butter, jackpot, jamboree. 


Meaning an Indian and used in the 
sense of not being up to the white man's 

siwash outfit 

Contemptuous name for an unenter- 
prising ranch. 


The common name for the pistol used 
in the West. 

skeleton rig 

An early-day saddle consisting of 
nothing but a tree, the rigging for the 
cinch, and the straps reaching to the 
wide ox-bow stirrups ; a saddle without 
skirts or fenders. 


A horse with patterns of white on any 
basic color except black. 

skid grease 

Slang name for butter. 

skillet of snakes 

The cowboy's name for the intricate 
Mexican brands. 

skim-milk cowboy 

A tenderfoot duded up in range re- 
galia, but without range experience. 


A calf raised on skim milk. 


One employed in skinning buffalo in 

the early days, one employed in skinning 
cattle after a wholesale die-up ; also a 
teamster or freighter who used mules; 
an ox-team driver was called a bull- 
whacker. In range English, one did not 
drive a jerk-line string, but instead skin- 
ned it. 

skinning knife 

A long knife used in skinning the hide 
from buffalo or cattle. 

skins his gun 

Said of one drawing a gun from a 

skin string 

Slang name for a rawhide rope. 


A trick-roping term. The trick is to 
jump into and out of a vertical noose 
and keep it spinning. 


The broad leathers of a saddle which 
go next to the horse. 


An Indian term, meaning good, great. 

skookum house 

A jail on an Indian reservation. 

skull cracker 

Cowboy's name for the Indian's toma- 

skunk boat 

A heavy canvas shaped like a narrow 
scow with sides about a foot high, which, 
when propped up at each corner with a 
small stick, forms a barrier about the 
sleeper's bed, over which he believes no 
skunk can make his way to bite the one 
thus protected (Will C. Barnes, "The 
Hydrophobia Skunk," Cattleman, XVII, 
No. 12 [May, 1931], 17—19). 


See nice kitty, piket, sachet kitten, 
wood pussy. 


The West's name for a preacher. 


Flat-ribbed, poor. 


Western Words 

slappin' a brand on 

Putting a brand on an animal. 

slappin' his tree on 

Slang phrase for saddling a horse. 

slattin' his sails 

Said of a bucking horse. 



A calf which has been earmarked by 
a cattle thief who intends to come back 
later and steal the animal (as noun). 
The earmark is used by the cattleman as 
a quick means of identification. Thus, 
during roundup, when the ranch hands 
came upon such an animal, they were 
likely to take it for granted that it had 
been branded when it was earmarked 
and leave it to roam, so that the thief 
might return later and put his own brand 
upon it or drive it away. To so mark 
such an animal (as verb). See sleefering. 

sleeper brands 

Cattle with unrecorded and unknown 
brands on that particular range. 


The rustler's taking an unbranded 
calf, earmarking it with the mother's 
earmark, and turning it loose unbranded. 
Since the earmark is that of the outfit to 
which it belongs, it attracts no undue 
attention. If the calf passes the notice of 
the riders of that ranch, the rustler will 
return when the calf is about six months 
old, wean it away from its mother, and 
slap his own brand upon it. Then he will 
change the earmark to go with his brand, 
and the new mark is one which usually 
destroys other earmarks. 


See covered his back with his belly, 
raftering, sage-henning, sleeping out. 

sleepin' out 

A term often used in speaking of the 
roundup season, for at this time the cow- 
boy does his sleeping in the open. 


A derringer such as a gambler carried 
up his sleeve. 


A large amount. 


A name for an unbranded animal, par- 
ticularly a horse. 


An animal which has not been ear- 
marked or branded. 

slick fork 

A saddle with little bulge or roll at 
the fork. 


Without spurs. 

slick saddle 

A saddle without a saddle roll. 

slick up 

To dress up in one's best. When a 
group of boys at a ranch started slickin' 
up for a shindig, it was, as Dave Hall 
once said, "shore hard on the soap sup- 
ply and stock water." An old-time trail 
driver gave me this description of a cow- 
boy cleaning up after a trail drive : "The 
first thing he does when he hits the town 
at the end of the trail is to rattle his 
hocks for a barbership where he can take 
a civilized soakin' in hot water with a 
big woolly towel and plenty of sweet 
smellin' soap. After he comes out of that 
dippin' vat, he buys ever'thing the bar- 
ber's got. When he comes out from under 
them operations, he's so clean and brown 
he looks like he's been scrubbed with 
saddle soap and his own folks wouldn't 
know 'im either by sight or smell." 

At the ranch his everyday cleanliness 
consists mostly of "hoofin' it to a wash 
basin in the mornin' to snort in it a 
couple o' times to get the sleep from his 
eyes, after which he paws over a towel, 
which, judgin' from its complexion, has 
been plumb pop'lar." 

sliding the groove 

Vernacular for following a trail so 
clearly blazoned it can not be lost. 

sling rope 

A long rope used to lash panniers on 
a packsaddle. 

slip gun 

A pistol so altered that it can be fired 
by slipping the thumb off the hammer. 
Generally the hammer spur is lowered, 



the trigger removed or tied down, and 
the barrel cut short so that the weapon 
may be carried in the pants pocket. (Fos- 
ter-Harris to R.F.A.) 

slipped his hobbles 

Said of a horse which has escaped his 
hobbles; also said of a person who has 
fallen from grace. 


A horseshoe, smooth and without 

slip shooting 

Accomplished by thumbing the ham- 
mer with a wiping motion. It is slower 
than fanning, but the shots are placed 
more accurately. Even then accuracy is 
limited to close range. 


To go. 


One who lives on the Pacific coast. 

sloppy riding 

Sitting loosely in the saddle, allowing 
the body to flop about in response to the 
pitching of the horse. 

slow brand 

An unrecorded brand, employed in 
one form of cattle stealing. It is unlaw- 
ful for anyone to mutilate a brand, and 
the law also requires that every brand 
must be recorded in the county of its 
origin. A rustler who blots out one brand 
and puts another in its place of course 
hesitates to record this new brand. He 
simply uses it, trusting that he can get 
the cattle out of the country before dis- 
covery. An unrecorded brand such as 
this is said to be a slow brand. (J. Frank 
Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Country 
[Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 121.) 

slow elk 

To kill for food an animal belonging 
to someone else (as verb) ; beef butchered 
without the owner's knowledge (as 
noun). Some cowmen followed the phi- 
losophy that "One's own beef don't taste 
as good as the other feller's because fat, 
tender yearling's what you kill when 
they're other folk's stuff." See big ante- 


See fryin' size, half-pint size. 

small loop man 

One who uses a small loop in roping. 
Cowboys of the brush country come un- 
der this classification. 


A roping term, as, "He smeared a 
rope on it." 

smoke one out 

Shooting to make one come out of hid- 
ing, to make one surrender, to make one 
divulge a secret. 

smokes his pipe 

Said of a horse with his lip torn where 
the bridle bit rests. 

smoke signal 

This term is taken from the Indian 
custom of communication, and the cow- 
boy uses the phrase in referring to any 
kind of sign or signal of warning. 

smoke the peace pipe 

To forgive and become friends after a 
quarrel. Taken from the Indians' custom 
of smoking the pipe of peace at counsels. 

smoke up 

To shoot at someone. One cowboy 
picked up his hat which had been shot 
off his head. Having no enemies, he sup- 
posed it had been done by some rough 
joker. As he looked at the top of the 
crown shot away, he said, "That's a 
helluva joke. How'd he know how much 
o' my head was in that hat?" 

smoke wagon 

Slang name for a gun; also called 
smoke fole. 

smoking out the cattle 

Shooting to scare cattle from their 
hiding place in a rough or brushy coun- 
try when riding circle on roundup. 


Said of an unshod horse. 

smoothin' out the humps 

Taking the rough edges off a horse. 
Some horses are inclined to pitch when 
saddled regardless of their years in serv- 


Western Words 

ice, especially in the spring when the 
grass is green and they are putting on 
flesh and feeling good. If there is any- 
thing that will cause horses to pitch, 
it is grass fat. After a winter of idleness 
the cowboy has to do some tall riding 
before he succeeds in smoothing the 
humps out of these horses. Also, usually 
there are one or two last year's broncs 
in his string that are starting their ca- 
reers as cow horses and they are apt to 
pitch for some time. (Editorial, "Chang- 
ing Mounts," Cattleman, XIX, No. 10 
[March, 1933], 50.) 

smooth mouth 

An aged horse. 

smooth roper 

A man expert in the use of the rope. 
One who goes about his task without 

snaffle bit 

Similar to the bar bit except that it is 
made in two pieces and connected with 
two interlocking eyes at the middle. 


To drag with a rope. 


A reptile, a low-principled man (as 
noun) ; to drag with a rope (as verb). 

snake blood 

Mean. One cowhand was heard to say 
of another, "He's got snake blood and's 
so tough he has to sneak up on the dipper 
to get a drink o' water." 

snake eyes 

Said of a mean horse. 

snake-head whiskey 

Strong and cheap whiskey of which 
it was said the maker put snake heads in 
the barrel to give it potency. One cow- 
hand used to say he "wondered how they 
kept such stuff corked." 

snake poison 

Whiskey; also called snake ivater. 


See sand eel, sidewinder, snake, snake's 
alarm clock. 

snake's alarm clock 

A rattlesnake's rattles. 


Mean, treacherous. 


To catch with a rope. 

snappin' broncs 

Breaking wild horses. 

snappin' turtle 

A narrow branding chute. 

snatch team 

A strong team used to supplement an- 
other on a hard pull. 


See chaparral fox, coyotin' 'round, 
Indian up. 


When the white color of a horse's 
forehead jumps to the nose as company 
for the star or star-strip, it is called a 


A contemptuous name for the sheep- 
man, for in the cowman's opinion he 
does nothing but sleep. 


An excitable horse. 

snortin' post 

Hitching post or rack. 


Said of a high-spirited horse; also of 
a man easy to anger. 

snow bird 

A soldier on the frontier who enlisted 
for the winter and deserted in the spring 
(W. S. Campbell [Stanley Vestal] to 



snubbed stock 

Dehorned cattle. 


A man who snubs a bad horse while 
the rider mounts. He performs this func- 
tion mostly at rodeos. On the range the 
cowboy is mostly "on his own" and has 
no help. 




The act of tying a horse's head to 
some fixed object, dehorning cattle. 

snubbing post 

A vertical, round timber about five 
feet high, firmly set in the earth at the 
center of the corral and stout enough to 
stand the strains to which it is subjected. 

snub horse 

A horse used in rodeos to snub a 
bucker to. 


A little wild, spirited. 


Often the cowboy lets his horse soak 
for a few minutes after saddling it to 
allow it to get over the notion of pitch- 


The cowboy's term for loafing. 

sober side of the bar 

Obviously the bartender's side. 

sobre paso (so'bray pay'so) 

A gait of a horse, a slow Spanish trot. 


When a horse has white on his feet 
that extends only to his fetlocks, he is 
said to have socks. 


A nickname for a farmer, one who 


A nester, because the early ones usual- 
ly lived in sod houses. 

sod-pawin' mood 

Angry. Taken from the example of 
the bull pawing up the ground when 


A term applied to a horse which tires 

soft grub 

Hotel food, fancy victuals. 

sold his saddle 

The last word for a man disgraced; 

also used to refer to a person utterly 
broke. This cow-country phrase has 
many other interpretations. If a man 
has betrayed his trust or has done some- 
thing else to earn the contempt of his 
fellows, he's sold his saddle. If he has 
lost his business and become destitute, 
he's sold his saddle, but with a note of 
pity rather than scorn. If his mind is 
deranged, he's sold his saddle, with a 
still different inflection. The words im- 
ply the ultimate in the abandonment of 

Even the children of the rangeland 
had their conception of this phrase. 
Philip A. Rollins, in his excellent book, 
The Cowboy, tells this fitting story: 
"Years ago in a little school at Gardiner, 
Montana, a small, tow-headed youth, 
when asked by the teacher as to who 
Benedict Arnold was and what he had 
done, replied: 'He was one of our gen- 
erals and he sold his saddle.' " (The Cow- 
boy [New York, Charles Scribner's 
Sons, 1936], I33-34-) 

Somebody stole his rudder. 

I heard this remark made about a 
drunken man weaving his way up the 
sidewalk. To watch some drunken cow- 
boys try to walk in high heels under a 
load of liquor you would think, as one 
cowboy said, "walkin' was a lost art." 
Any drunken cowboy walking in high- 
heeled boots under this condition looks 
as if "his legs was a burden." 

Some deck is shy a joker. 

Said of an outlandishly dressed per- 
son, usually a tenderfoot. 


See hymns, singin' to 'em. 


Dried fruit rolled in dough, sewed 
in a sack, and steamed. It takes plenty of 
patience and "cussin' " to make it for it 
has to be hung in a big hot-water bucket 
over a pot rack to steam. After seeing 
one of them made, you will agree that 
the cook has given it a fitting name. 

son-of-a-bitch stew 

A favorite dish of the cowboy, made 
of the brains, sweetbreads, and choice 
pieces of a freshly killed calf. If the cow- 


Western Words 

hand wishes to be polite he calls it son- 
of-a-gun, but if no delicate ears are 
present, he calls it by its true fighting 

When a calf is killed, the tongue, 
liver, heart, lights, kidneys, sweetbreads, 
and brain are carried to the cook; and 
he knows what is expected of him. He 
chops all these ingredients up into small 
bits with his butcher knife and prepares 
to stew them slowly in an iron kettle. 
There are as many different ways to 
make this dish as there are cooks. Some 
may throw in some potatoes, a can of 
tomatoes, or anything else that is handy. 
If the eater can tell what's in it, it is 
not a first-class stew. As the cowboy 
says, "You throw ever'thing in the pot 
but the hair, horns, and holler." The 
longer it is cooked the better it is. 

Sonora reds 

A nickname given by the northern 
cowboy to the red Mexican cattle which 
came up the trail. 


Men who went out on the range and 
branded cattle before the date set by the 
official roundup association. These set 
dates gave every man an equal opportun- 
ity as well as avoiding working the cattle 
more than once, but there were always 
some dishonest men who worked only 
to their own selfish advantage. By work- 
ing ahead of the regular roundup, these 
men could pick up many mavericks, 
calves whose mothers had been killed 
by wolves or had died from natural 
causes, and those missed in the last brand- 


Cowboy's name for gravy. 

sop and 'taters 

A slang name for the cook; also a 
horse that paces. 


A horse of the chestnut type, but light- 
er, with a yellowish and reddish golden 

soundin' the horn 

Taking hold of the saddle horn when 
a horse starts bucking. 


A bachelor; also a title of the cook. 

sourdough bullet 

A slang name for a biscuit, not called 
this within hearing of the cook. 

sourdough keg 

A small wooden keg, usually hold- 
ing about five gallons, in which the cook 
kept his sourdough. When getting ready 
for the coming roundup, the cook put 
three or four quarts of flour into this 
keg and added a dash of salt and just 
enough water to make a medium-thick 
batter. The keg was then placed in the 
sun to let the heat ferment the contents 
for several days. Sometimes a little vine- 
gar or molasses was added to hasten the 

The first batch of batter was merely 
to season the keg. After the fermentation 
was well started, it was poured out, and 
enough new batter mixed up to fill the 
keg. Each day it was put into the sun 
to hasten fermentation and each night 
it was wrapped in blankets to keep the 
batter warm and working. Some cooks 
even slept with their kegs. 

After several days of this treatment, 
the dough was ready to use. From then 
to the end of the season the keg was 
never cleaned out. Every time the cook 
took out enough dough for a meal, he 
put back enough of the flour, salt, and 
water to replace it. In this way he always 
had plenty of dough working. 

When making up his bread, he simply 
added enough flour and water to this 
batter to make a medium-stiff dough. 
Every wagon cook thought his sour- 
dough the best ever, and he took great 
pride in his product. An outfit that let 
anything happen to its sourdough keg 
was in a bad shape, and most cooks 
would just about defend their kegs with 
their lives. (Will C. Barnes in the Dallas 
Morning News, October 18, 1931.) 


Either the plural of sourdough or bis- 

sow bosom 

Salt pork. 

spade bit 

A bit with a piece shaped like a broad 



screwdriver on the mouth bar, three or 
four inches in length, and bent backward 
at the top (Philip A. Rollins, The Cow- 
boy [New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
I 936] J 148-49). A good rider never 
forgets that it is a spade, and that it can 
do damage, and he handles his reins 

Spanish fever 

A splenic fever caused by ticks and 
spread by the immune, but tick-infested, 
cattle of the southern country to cattle 
of more northern latitudes. The preva- 
lence of this fever was greatly respon- 
sible for stopping the old trail drives. 

Spanish supper 

The tightening of the belt a notch or 
two as a substitute for food. 


A common name for the Mexican. 

spiked his horse's tail 

Said when a rider, going at full speed, 
pulls his horse to such a sudden stop 
that he literally sits on his tail. 

spike weaner 

A circle of wire spikes fitted around a 
calf's nose and serving the purpose of 
weaning the animal. 


Thrown from a horse. 


A horse which bucks in a tight circle, 
spinning either to right or left. This type 
of horse generally does his bucking in a 
small space, but his actions are so violent 
as he whirls and bucks with a backward 
motion as he hits the ground, that the 
average rider quickly becomes dizzy, 
loses his sense of balance, and is soon 
"eating gravel." This type of bucker 
seldom hurts his rider when throwing 
him, because he doesn't throw him high. 
He merely whirls and turns out from 
under him, letting him down compara- 
tively easy. (Bruce Clinton, "Buckin' 
Horses," Western -Horseman, III, No. 3 
[May-June, 1938], 10.) 

splatter dabs 

Slang name for hot cakes. 


An earmark made simply by splitting 
the ear midway from the tip about half- 
way toward the head. 

split the blankets 

To share one's bed with another. 

splitting the tail 

It was believed among old-time cow- 
men that splitting a cow's tail would 
prevent blackleg. 

spoiled herd 

One that has acquired the habit of 
stampeding at every opportunity. 

spoiled horse 

One abused at the breaking period un- 
til he has had his character ruined — a 
man-made outlaw. 


To scare. 


Said of a horse with a nervous tem- 

spool your bed 

To roll it up for packing or moving. 

spotted pup 

Rice and raisins cooked together. 

spraddled out 

The cowboy's term for being dressed 
up in his best. Yet it is one of the phi- 
losophies of the cowman that, "It's the 
man that's the cowhand, not the outfit 
he wears." 


A roping term, a ranch, together with 
its buildings, cattle, and employees. 

spread the mustard 

To put on airs. 


A cow about to calve. 

spring roundup 

Synonymous with calf roundup, oc- 
curring in the spring. 

spur buttoning 

Sliding the button of the spur along 
the sides of a bucking horse when scratch- 
ing instead of turning the rowels against 


Western Words 

his flesh. This is practiced by some rodeo 

spur leather 

A broad, crescent-shaped shield of 
leather fitting- over the instep to hold 
the spur on the foot. 


See bicycling, business riding, coasting 
on the spurs, comb, curry him out, curry 
the kinks out, gaff, gig, goose, hundred- 
and-elevens, raking, reefing, scratch, 
scratching, screwing down, shove in the 
steel, slick-heeled, spur buttoning, throw- 
ing the steel. 


The metal necessities worn upon the 
cowboy's heels. They are one of the most 
essential implements of the cowboy's 
equipment for controlling his horse. He 
does not wear them to punish a horse as 
many people think, nor are they on his 
heels for ornament. He uses them more 
than he does the reins, but mostly as re- 
minders. They are necessary in helping 
a horse over rough places he does not 
want to cross, or in signaling him for 
turnings and quick starts and stops. 

If a cowhand used his spurs to cut 
a horse up, he would not last long at 
most ranches, and if the outfit was so 
short handed it was forced to keep him 
on, he would likely be given such a 
rough string, he would be kept so busy 
trying to hang on he wouldn't have time 
to use his spurs. 

The real cowboy loves his horses, and 
being cruel to them is farthest from his 
mind. When he buys a new pair of spurs, 
the first thing he does is to file the points 
of the rowels until they are blunt. Sharp 
rowels keep him from doing good work 
because they keep the horse fighting and 
nervous and shrinking from their touch. 
When he uses them, a mere touch is as 
far as he goes and sometimes a slight 
motion of the leg is all that is necessary. 

He does not buy a big spur because it 
looks scary, but because the big one is 
less cruel. The bigger the rowel and the 
more points it has the less damage it 
does. It is the little spur with few points 
that sinks in. (Will James, All in a Day's 
Riding [New York, Charles Scribner's 
Sons, i933]> 54-) 

The jingle of the spurs is sweet music 
to any cowhand. It keeps him from get- 
ting lonesome when he's riding the range, 
and as long as he hears the music of the 
spurs everything is rosy. He rarely takes 
them off when he is working, and in 
some sections he loses his social standing 
when he is caught without them. Many 
a pair of boots has been worn out with- 
out ever having had the spurs removed. 
Spurs are helpful at night, too, as a 
bootjack in removing boots. 


See buck hook, buzzsaw, California 
drag rowel, can openers, cartwheel, 
Chihuahuas, danglers, diggers, flower 
rowel, gad, gal-leg, galves, gooseneck, 
grapplin' irons, gut-hooks, gut lancers, 
hooks, Kelly's, locked spurs, petmakers, 
rib wrenches, shank, spur leather, spurs, 
star rowel, steel, sunset rowel, tin-belly, 
wagon-spoke rowel. 


This word has a broad meaning on 
the range. A man entitled to such a testi- 
monial to his worth has to possess quali- 
ties of unflinching courage, daring, and 
self-reliance; and in addition to these he 
has to be ready and willing to "stand by" 
a brother cowman and to do his duty 
efficiently in everything that might hap- 
pen to come up in the work of the day. 
Moreover, whatever he might have been 
and might have done elsewhere, he must 
be truthful, honest, and honorable in all 
his relations to the outfit as a whole and 
to each of the men with whom he is asso- 
ciated in taking care of its property. 
Lying, crookedness, and double-dealing 
are intolerable offenses in this close- 
bound life. To say of a man that he is 
square is to pay him the highest compli- 
ment. {Prose and Poetry of the Cattle 
Industry [Denver, 1905].) 


A bit of land, a claim (as noun) ; to 
settle on a claim (as verb). 


One who settles on state or govern- 
ment land. 

squaw hitch 

A packer's knot. 


squaw horse 

What the cowboy sometimes calls a 
poor specimen of horseflesh. 


A white man who marries an Indian 

squaw wood 

A slang name for dried cow chips; 
also used in speaking of small, dry, easily 
broken sticks when used for fuel. 

squeeze 'em down 

Narrowing the width of a trail herd 
for the crossing of a river or any other 


Narrow branding chutes. 

squeeze the biscuit 

To catch the saddle horn when riding. 

squeezin' lizzie 

Holding the saddle horn. One cow- 
hand spoke of another's "hangin' on like 
an Injun to a whiskey jug" during a 

squirrel can 

A large can used by the cook to throw 
scraps into. Whenever anything, from a 
saddle blanket to a spur, is lost, some- 
one jokingly suggests looking for it in 
the squirrel can. 


Short for haystack. 

stack it on 

To throw a rope upon an animal. 


Where hay is stacked for winter feed- 
ing of cattle. 


Male animals castrated late in life. 

staked to a fill 

Given a good meal. 

stake out 

To picket an animal. 

stake rope 

The Texan's name for the picket rope 
used to stake horses. 


See loggin', picket, picket pin, picket 
rope, putto, stake out, stake rope. 

stamp brand 

One made with a set branding iron 
which burns the complete brand with one 
impression. This iron is only practical 
when comparatively small brands are 
used. Modern cowmen use smaller brands 
since the use of the running iron is un- 
lawful, for large brands ruin the ani- 
mal's hide for the leather buyers. 


The running wild of cattle or horses 
from fright. Used both as a verb and a 
noun and from the Spanish estampida, 
meaning a general scamper of cattle; 
also a loud noise or crash. The term is 
also used to express the rush of humans 
to new localities. 

A stampede is dangerous both to the 
running cattle and to the men herding 
them. The cattle will often run until 
exhausted, and of course, this is damag- 
ing to both their weight and their con- 
dition. The fact that the majority of 
stampedes occur on stormy nights make 
them more difficult to bring under con- 
trol and more dangerous for the riders. 
Many a cowboy has been left in an un- 
marked grave upon the prairie as the 
result of a stampede. 

Nothing can happen so quickly as a 
stampede. It is difficult to realize how 
suddenly many cattle can rise to their 
feet and be gone. As the cowman says, 
"They jes' buy a through ticket to hell 
and gone, and try to ketch the first 
train." A stampede spoils cattle and 
makes them nervous and hard to hold 
for many days. Often many of them are 
killed or crippled, and others are so 
scattered they are never recovered. 

Anything can cause a stampede. Thou- 
sands of causes have been listed by the 
cattlemen, some of them so simple that 
they sound ridiculous to the uninitiated. 
In the trail days the cattle were traveling 
a country strange to them and were nat- 
urally nervous and suspicious. Also at 
this time the country was full of thieves 
who often stampeded a herd in the hope 
of retrieving some of the scattered ones. 

The old-time cowman called them 


Western Words 

"stompedes," and his description of one 
was, "It's one jump to their feet and 
another jump to hell." (J. Frank Dobie, 
The Longhorns [Boston, Little, Brown, 
1941], 88.) 

The riders make every effort to gain 
a position alongside the lead cattle and 
try to head them into a milling circle. 
Each rider keeps up his singing or some 
sort of noise, and if he can hear his part- 
ner, he knows he is safe. If he does not 
hear him, he might be down. Contrary 
to general belief and popular fiction, 
guns are rarely fired in front of cattle 
in an effort to turn them. This would 
only frighten them the more. 


A horse easily frightened, which runs 
away blindly; also a cow or steer which 
habitually starts the herd stampeding. 
If there ever is a horse genuinely hated 
in an outfit it is the stampeder. He is 
more dangerous than a bucker, because 
he is generally sort of crazy and does 
not look where he is going. (Dick Boyd, 
"The Evolution of a Cowboy," Cattle- 
man, XXV, No. 10 [March, 1939], 
119— 21.) 

stampede to the wild bunch 

Said of one who has committed a 
crime and is dodging the law; one who 
joins an outlaw band. According to Old 
Man Kip Bronson, at one time in a cer- 
tain section of the West, the "thieves and 
killers was so thick y'u'd a-thought they 
had a bill-o'-sale on the whole damned 


In the parlance of the buffalo hunter 
this meant bringing a whole herd to a 
halt by killing the leading bull, then 
killing animal after animal that at- 
tempted to get to the front of the herd. 
As a rule buffaloes refused to leave after 
they smelled the blood of the first one 
shot, and their slaughter was easy. (W. 
S. Campbell [Stanley Vestal] to R.F.A. ; 
Sophie A. Poe, Buckboard Days [Cald- 
well, Idaho, Caxton Printers, 1936], 

stand by 

To remain loyal. 

standing feed 

Grass, uncut hay. 

standing night guard 

Doing guard duty with the herd at 
night. See night guard. 


A small patch of white in the forehead 
of a dark-colored horse. 

star gazing 

A trick-roping term which means to 
start a body spin and slowly assume a 
sitting posture, then lie on the back, spin- 
ning all the while. 


To sleep in the open without cover- 

star rowel 

A spur with a rowel of five or six 

star strip 

When the white star on a horse's fore- 
head extends below the level of the eyes, 
it is called a star strip. 

startin' the swim 

Putting the leaders of a trail herd into 
the water for a crossing. Getting cattle 
to take to water often calls for a great 
deal of patience, a knowledge of cow 
psychology, and a lot of experience. If 
the sun shines in the eyes of the cattle, 
they have difficulty in seeing the oppo- 
site bank and will not swim. Sometimes 
starting the swim is accomplished by 
keeping them away from the water a 
day or two and then gradually working 
them down to an easy taking-off place. 
Frequently, just as the cattle reach the 
water's edge, the horse herd will be eased 
into the river ahead of the lead cattle 
and started for the opposite bank. Usual- 
■ ly the drovers have no difficulty in get- 
ting the cattle to follow the horses. 


A sheriff or deputy. 


A pasture of very few acres at a per- 
manent camp, usually without water and 
with the grass used up, into which 



horses are thrown overnight to avoid 
having to catch them in the morning. 

state's eggs 

The cowboy's name for eggs, because 
in the early days they were all shipped 
in from the states to the cow country, 
most of which at that time was in the 

stay in one's tree 

To remain in the saddle. Stay in one's 
■pine, stay in one's ellum fork are vari- 
ants. These expressions are often used 
as shouts of encouragement or admoni- 

stay out with the dry cattle 

To make a night of it, to carouse, to 
get drunk. 

Stay with him! 

The familiar cry of the breaking cor- 
ral and a phrase of encouragement heard 
at every rodeo when a man is riding a 
bucking horse. 


See borrowed, Pecos swap, rustle, 
rustling, sleepering, swing a wide loop, 


Slang name for spurs. 

steeple fork 

An earmark made by cutting two 
splits into the ear from the end, back 
one-third or halfway toward the head, 
and cutting out the middle piece, the 
splits about an inch apart. 

steer busting 

A popular name for roping and 
throwing a steer with a rope single- 
handed. The roper rides as close to the 
animal as possible before casting his loop. 
When it is settled around the horns or 
neck, and has been given a jerk to hold 
it there, the slack of the rope is dropped 
just under the steer's right hip-bone and 
around his buttocks. The rider then reins 
his horse to the left and braces himself 
for the shock which is sure to follow. 
When the slack is taken up, the steer is 
reversed in midair and slammed to the 
ground with a force that knocks the 
breath from him. (John M. Hendrix, 

"Roping," Cattleman, XXII, No. i 
[June, 1935], 16-17.) 

steer horse 

A roping horse trained so that he will 
take up the slack by facing away and 
pulling forward from the thrown ani- 

steer roping 

The art of capturing, busting, and 
hog-tying a range steer single-handed. 

step across 

Slang for mounting a horse. 


A name the cowboy often gives his hat 
whether it is a "genuwine" Stetson or 
not. The big Stetson hat is the earmark 
of the cow country. It is the first thing 
the tenderfoot buys when he goes west, 
but he never seems to learn to wear it at 
just the "right jack-deuce angle over 
his off-eye." One cowman can tell what 
state another is from by the size and 
shape of his hat. 

It is not altogether vanity that makes 
the cowboy pay a high price for his hat. 
He knows he has to have one of fine 
quality to stand the rough usage it re- 
ceives. He may throw it on the floor and 
hang his spurs on a nail, for he knows a 
good hat can be tromped on without 
hurting it, while tromping on a spur 
does neither the tromper nor the spur 
any good. 

You may be surprised to learn that 
the cowboy's hat has more different uses 
than any other garment he wears. Often 
his life depends upon a good hat, for a 
limber brim of a cheap hat might flop 
in his eyes at just the wrong time. When 
he is riding in the scorching sun, the 
wide brim is like the shade of a tree, and 
the high crown furnishes space to keep 
his head cool. The wide brim also shades 
his eyes so that he can see long distances 
without getting sun-blinded when a lot 
depends upon his vision. When the sun 
is at his back, he tilts his Stetson for 
neck protection. In the rain it serves as 
an umbrella and makes a good shelter 
when he is trying to snatch a little day- 
light sleep. (Will James, All in a Day's 
Riding [New York, Charles Scribner's 
Sons, 1933], 15-20.) 

The crown makes a handy water buck- 


Western Words 

et if his horse can not get to water, and 
the brim serves as his own drinking-cup. 
He starts his camp fire with his hat by 
using it as a bellows to fan a sickly 
blaze, and he can use it again as a water 
bucket to put out that same fire when he 
breaks camp. In the winter he pulls the 
brim down and ties it over his ears to 
avoid frostbite. 

His hat is the first thing a cowhand 
puts on when he gets up and the last 
thing he takes off when he goes to bed. 
But during the day there are many times 
when he may have to jerk it off to use 
as a handy implement. There are times 
when its sudden use saves a lot of hard 
work, a long ride, a nasty fall, or even 
sudden death. Perhaps he is penning a 
bunch of snaky critters when the wave 
of a big hat will turn a bunch quitter 
and save a long ride. It also comes in 
handy to turn a stampeding bronc from 
dangerous ground by fanning its head 
when reins would be useless. It is use- 
ful in splitting a bunch of horses in two 
when the cowboy is afoot in a horse cor- 

A big hat in the hands of a bronc 
rider can be used like a balancing pole 
of a tight-wire walker. If the rider loses 
his hat, he loses a lot of his balancing 

Perhaps the cowboy is afoot in a 
branding pen when some old mama cow 
hears the bellow of her offspring as he 
is being branded. She comes on the run 
and on the prod. (Being afoot in a pen 
with a cow in this mood is, in the lan- 
guage of the cowhand, "more dangerous 
than kickin' a loaded polecat.") The big 
hat now comes in handy to throw into 
her face when she gets too close, making 
her hesitate long enough to let the cow- 
boy get to a fence. 

Most riders decorate their hats with 
bands, both as ornaments and for the 
purpose of adjusting the fit to the head. 
What they use is mostly a matter of per- 
sonal taste. Some like leather bands stud- 
ded with silver conchas, some use strings 
of Indian beads, while others are satis- 
fied with bands of rattlesnake skin or 
woven horsehair. Whatever is used will 
likely serve as a storage place to keep 
matches dry. 

See John B. 

stew ball 

A corruption of skewbald, meaning a 
horse spotted with white and any other 
color except black. 

stick horse 

One that has to be forced to work. 


See hang and rattle. 

stickin' like a postage stamp 

Said of one making a good ride. 

sticky rope 

A slang name for a rustler. His rope 
has a habit of "stickin' to other folk's 


Synonymous with corpse. As the life- 
less body of a human soon becomes rigid, 
the more easily spoken word stiff was 
substituted for corpse, and was later ap- 
plied in a contemptuous way to suggest 
worthlessness, or to "dead ones." (Robert 
M. Wright, Dodge City, the Cowboy 
Capital [Wichita, Kansas, 1913 (re- 
print)], 163.) 

stiff man 

A man, who, with wagon and team 
and a barrel or two of oil or gasoline, 
drives over the range disposing of car- 
casses by burning them as he comes across 
them. It is a better job for a man who 
has lost his sense of smell. 

stiff rope and a short drop 

Said of a hanging. 

stingy gun 

A derringer or bulldog pistol of light 


A word applied to a person held in 
contempt. The word, originated in this 
sense by the buffalo hunters, was applied 
to newcomers on the range who skinned 
the buffalo that the former had killed, 
but were unable to secure the hides im- 
mediately on account of freezes or other 
natural causes (Robert M. Wright, 
Dodge City, the Cowboy Capital [Wich- 
ita, Kansas, 1913 (reprint], 163). 

stirrup leathers 

The broad leathers that hang from the 



bar of the tree of the saddle and from 
which the stirrups hang. 


Foot supports of the saddle, usually 
made of wood bound with iron, brass, 
or rawhide, but sometimes all iron or 
brass. There is nothing the cowboy 
dreads more than having a foot caught 
in a stirrup and being dragged to death 
by a horse. 


See acion, bulldogs, dog-house stir- 
rups, drop stirrup, eagle-bill, hobbled 
stirrups, leg jockey, monkey nose, one 
foot in the stirrup, open stirrups, ox- 
bow, ox-yokes, stirrups, stirrup leathers, 

stock detective 

A man engaged in trying to catch 
cattle thieves and brand burners, usually 
employed by a cattle association. 


Cattle acquired for building up a new 
herd on a previously unoccupied range. 

stock horse 

Brood mare and colt. 


When the white on a horse's legs ex- 
tend above the fetlocks, he is said to have 

Stock Raiser 

See cattleman, rancher, ranchero, 


The cowboy's name for cheap, hand- 
me-down boots. 

stomach pump 

A spade bit, so called because of the 
piece of flat steel which curves a little 
and goes up into the horse's mouth. 


A cowboy dance. Most of the boys are 
timid until the dance warms up. Cochise 
Jones once said; "They've run in a 
straight steer herd so long they're shy as 
a green bronc to a new waterin' trough. 
Some of 'em dance like a bear 'round a 
beehive that's afraid of gettin' stung; 

others don't seem to know how to handle 
calico and get as rough as they do hand- 
lin' cattle in a brandin' pen. The women 
would jes' as soon dance with a grizzly 
as one of them kind, but most peelers 
go more or less loco when a female's 

stood up 


stool-and-bucket cow 

Gentle milch cow. 


See entries under windies. 

straddlin' down the road 

A good cowboy description of a bow- 
legged man walking on high heels. 

straight as a wagon tongue 

Said of a trustworthy person. 

straight bit 

A bit made of a straight piece of metal. 

straight buck 

Said when a horse makes straight 
jumps without any twists or turns. See 
buckin' straight away. 

straight steer herd 

A herd composed of nothing but steers. 


A strip of galvanized iron placed over 
the middle of the saddletree to cover the 
open space between the side-boards. 
Upon this is laid a piece of soft, thick 
leather fashioned to the form of the rider. 

strangulation jig 

A hanging. A man being hanged had 
his hands tied behind him, but his feet 
were usually free and these kicked about 
in his death struggle; hence the name. 

strapped on his horse, toes down 

This meant that the one spoken of had 
been killed. During range wars many 
men were sent home in this manner. A 
loose horse will usually go home of his 
own accord, and when he carries such a 
gruesome burden, it serves as a warning 
to the faction opposing the killers. 

straw shed 

A winter shelter made of posts and 
covered with straw. 


Western Words 

straw boss 

Assistant foreman. 

stray man 

See rep. 


A term applied to cattle visiting from 
other ranges; horses from other ranges 
are said to be stray horses, not merely 

stretchin' the blanket 

Telling a windy or tall tale, lying. 

stretchin' out 

When one cowhand ropes an animal 
by the forefeet, while another one ropes 
him by the hind feet, thus stretching the 


Slang for a rope; also a mount of 
horses. The cowboy's string of horses is 
carefully made up of the different kinds 
necessary for his work: circle horses, 
cutting horses, roping horses, a night 
horse, and one or two broncs. Once a 
string has been turned over to him, it is 
the same as his own as long as he stays 
with the ranch ; and no one, not even the 
boss, can ride one of the horses without 
his permission. 

Each man is responsible for the con- 
dition of his own string, and while the 
boss never interferes with these horses, 
he had better not see them abused. A 
string is never split. If the rider quits 
or gets fired, the horses in his string are 
not used until he comes back, or another 
rider takes his place. A rider taking a 
new job has a string of horses pointed 
out to him by the boss. He receives no 
information concerning them. Informa- 
tion is frequently taken as an offense, as 
it implies a lack of confidence in his 
ability. When the boss takes a horse from 
a rider's string, this action tells the rider 
more strongly than words that he wants 
him to quit. 


See cavvy, choosin' match, mount, re- 
muda, saddle band. 

stringin' a greener 

Playing tricks upon a tenderfoot. 

There are many such tricks, and they 
constitute a favorite sport of the cow 


Short for saddle strings. See saddle 

string up 

To hang. 


A heifer, a cow without milk; also a 
skinner of buffaloes or dead cattle. 


Usually an old bull whose horns were 
chipped and broken from many fights. 
He often spent time rubbing these horns 
on rocks and trees attempting to sharpen 
them for the next battle (W. S. Camp- 
bell [Stanley Vestal] to R.F.A.). Also 
sometimes applied to a man who has 
been scarred by many battles. 

stuck his bill in the ground 

Said when a horse lowers his head 
between his forelegs to start bucking. 

stud bunch 

A bunch of mares and colts which a 
stallion herds and holds in one bunch, 
averaging about twenty head. 


A common reference to general range 
stock which might include yearlings, 
bulls, steers, weaners, cows with calves, 
and dry cows. 

stump sucker 

A horse having the vice of biting or 
getting his teeth against something and 
"sucking wind." 


See big casino, bonanza, get the bacon. 

sudadero (soo-dah-day'ro) 

Spanish, meaning a handkerchief for 
wiping off the sweat, or sweat -pad. The 
cowman uses it to mean the leather lining 
of the skirt of the saddle. This term is 
sometimes incorrectly applied to the 


Blankets for bedding, heavy comforts 
often made from patches of pants, coats, 

I 5 8 


or overcoats. A suggan usually weighs 
about four pounds, as the cowboy says, 
"a pound for each corner." Also called 
soogans or soogins. 

In her recent book, No Life for a 
Lady, Agnes Morley Cleaveland tells a 
good story about soogins: 

"It was a popular joke with us to tell 
some tenderfoot that we were sorry, but 
we had to confess that all our beds had 
soogins in them, and then watch the look 
of apprehension settle in the visitor's eye. 

"One visitor put a certain cowboy 
properly in his place — an especially ig- 
norant cowboy, I confess, but not too 
rare a specimen. The cowboy laughed 
uproariously at the visitor's unconcealed 
distaste for sleeping in a bed infested 
with soogins. 

" 'You should laugh,' retorted the 
visitor, 'I happen to know that you slum- 
ber in your bed.' 

"The cowboy turned purple. 'No man 
can say that about me and git away with 
it!' he roared. 

"Fortunately he had no gun. We res- 
cued the visitor." 

(Agnes Morley Cleaveland, No Life 
for a Lady [Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 
1941], 166.) 


A pampered horse. 

suicide horse 

A blind bucker; a horse that goes in- 
sane from fear when ridden and is more 
dangerous to himself than to the rider, 
as he is apt to kill himself by bucking 
into or over obstacles. 


A rodeo contestant is indeed unlucky 
when he draws a horse of this type. Such 
a horse will not leave the chute until he 
is good and ready. He will squat back on 
his haunches, bunching himself, after 
the chute gate is opened. No amount of 
coaxing will make him come out until 
he is ready to do so of his own accord. 
Suddenly he will leave with a mighty 
leap which causes most riders to break 
their balance across the cantle board of 
the saddle. Very seldom is the rider ever 
able to regain his seat and get with his 
mount. Another cowboy bites the dust, 
and the crowd gets a good laugh. (Bruce 

Clinton, "Buckin' Horses," Western 
Horseman, III, No. 3 [May— June, 
1938], 28.) 

summer name 

When a man chose to give a name 
other than his true one, the West respect- 
ed a strict code of showing no curiosity 
about his past. The nearest approach to 
curiosity would be when he was asked, 
facetiously, "What is your summer 

Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes 

What the cowboy calls his very best 

Sunday horse 

One with an easy gait, usually a single- 
footer with some style, and one the cow- 
boy saves to ride upon special occasions. 
He is usually a fancy, high-stepping, all- 
around saddler, but as Whitey Blythe 
used to say, "He ain't worth a damn — 
only to ride down the road." 


A horse that sunfishes. 


A bucking term used in describing the 
movements of a horse when he twists his 
body into a crescent, alternately to the 
right and to the left ; or, in other words, 
when he seems to try to touch the ground 
with first one shoulder and then the 
other, letting the sunlight hit his belly. 


Slang name for a Mexican. 

sunned his moccasins 

Often said when one is thrown from 
a horse, especially when he lands with 
his feet in the air! 

sunpecked jay 

A rustic, a rural resident. 

sunset rowel 

A spur wheel with many points set 
close together; also called a sunburst. 

Supaway John 

The expression an Indian used in 
asking for food when he came to a cow 


Western Words 


A belly-band. 

surface fuel 

Dried cow chips. 


A slang name for a bull. 


Quantity, load, a low place, a coulee. 

swallow-and-get-out trough 

A hurry-up eating place. There is a 
story in the West which runs something 
like this: "When a passenger train 
stopped at an eating station, an eastern 
lady rushed from it to one of those rail- 
road swallow-and-get-out troughs. The 
conductor notified the passengers that 
they had only about five minutes to eat 
as the train was late, so the lady just 
ordered a cup of coffee. When she got it, 
black and boiling hot, she remarked that 
she doubted whether she could drink it 
in time to catch her train. A cowboy 
sitting next to her wanted to show her 
true western hospitality, so he shoved 
her his cup and said, 'Here's one, lady, 
that's already saucered and blowed.' " 

swallowed his head 

Said when a horse bucks high and 
produces a decided curve in his back 
with his head between his front feet and 
his tail between his hind ones. 


An earmark made by hollowing the 
ear lengthwise, beginning halfway back, 
cutting at an angle of forty-five degrees 
toward the end. The result is a forked 
notch in the ear. 


Putting on airs, all dressed up in one's 


An earmark made by trimming the tip 
of the ear into the form of a bird's 
flaring tail. 


The cook's helper, a janitor in a sa- 
loon ; also a man who handles the brakes 
and helps the driver of a jerk-line string. 

swamp seed 

Slang name for rice. 

swapping ends 

A movement peculiar to a bronc, 
where he quickly reverses his position, 
making a complete half-circle in the air. 


To work for one's board without 
other pay. 

sweatin' a game 

Sitting around looking at a card game. 


A saddle with swells, or projections, 
in leather on each side of the fork below 
the horn. The rider can hook his knees 
under these projections when riding a 
pitching horse and they help keep him 
in the saddle. 

swimming horse 

A horse, selected because of his ability 
to swim, used in crossing rivers. Not all 
horses are good or steady swimmers, and 
during the trail days when there were 
many rivers to cross, much depended 
upon a good swimming horse. 

swimming the herd 

If the river to be crossed is at medium 
stage and calm, there is usually no trou- 
ble in getting the leaders to take the 
water; but if the river is high and tur- 
bulent, much vigorous urging is required. 
Sometimes a cowboy or two will swim 
ahead on their horses to show the cattle 
that there is no danger. Occasionally the 
horse herd will cross to open the way. 
If the cattle reach swimming depth, they 
usually go ahead to the other side unless 
some floating log or other untoward 
event causes them to start milling in mid- 

There have been instances when the 
lead cattle have refused under all urging 
to take to the water of a swollen river 
and several days have elapsed before a 
crossing could be made. 

swimming water 

Water too deep to cross without swim- 

swing a wide loop 

To live a free life, to steal cattle. 

1 60 


swinging brand 

One suspended from and connected 
to a quarter-circle. 

swing rider 

One of the riders with a trail herd, 
riding about one-third of the way back 
from the point riders. See foint rider. 

swing team 

Any span of horses in a jerk-line string 
between the leaders and the wheel horses. 

swivel dude 

A gaudy fellow. Silk Kutner once said 
of one, "He's so pretty I feel like takin' 
off my hat ever'time I meet 'im." 


"There ain't no boss that can't be rode, 
There ain't no man that can't be throwed" 

tack-berry buckle 

A cinch buckle carrying two wraps 
of the latigo and hooking into the cinch 


The throwing of an animal by the tail 
in lieu of a rope. Any animal can, when 
traveling rapidly, be sent heels over 
head by seizing its tail and giving it a 
pull to one side. This method was re- 
sorted to frequently with the wild long- 
horns, and a thorough tailing usually 
knocked the breath from them and so 
dazed them that they would behave for 
the rest of the day. The act requires 
both a quick and swift horse and a dar- 
ing rider. (J. Frank Dobie, Vaquero of 
the Brush Country [Dallas, Southwest 
Press, 1929], 15.) 


See bull tailing, tailing, tailing up. 



tailing up 

Lifting weak cattle to their feet by 
their tails. This method is used primarily 
after cattle are extricated from bog holes. 

tail out 

To depart, to decamp. 

tail over the dashboard 

Said of one in high spirits. 

tail over the lines 

Said of one hard to control. 

tail pulling 

The southern cowman lets the tails of 
his horses grow. Perhaps it is to protect 
them from flies and insects which are 
worse on southern ranges, perhaps it is 
merely a tradition. But since early in the 
industry, on northern ranges, it has been 
the custom to make some changes in the 
horse's tail. It became the practice at the 
end of the season to cut the tail off close 
to the bone. By doing this the riders, 
when they rode out the following spring 
to roundup the saddle horses, could dis- 
tinguish them from the wild ones. With 
the aid of field glasses these riders could 
see the horses at a great distance, and if 
the bunch they spied wore long tails, they 
knew the horses were not the ones they 
were looking for and consequently were 
saved a long ride. 

But this cutting of the tail made it 
grow out unnaturally heavy and bushy, 
giving it an ugly, misshapen appearance. 
To give the tail a lighter and dressier 
look, the cowhand began pulling or 
weeding out the hair. This improved the 
appearance so much that it became the 
fashion to pull rather than to cut the 
tail, and to this day a pulled tail is the 
sign that its possessor is a broken horse. 

When the northern cowboy sees a sad- 
dle horse with a tail long enough to drag 
against his hind hoofs, he figures he be- 


Western Words 

longs to a farmer or a gambler in town. 
To him, horses with long tails look like 
brood mares. (Bud Cowan, Range Rider 
[Garden City, Doubleday, Doran, 
1930], 24; and J. K. Rollinson, Pony 
Trails in Wyoming [Caldwell, Idaho, 
Caxton Printers, 1941], 36, 112.) 

tail rider 

One of the men at the rear of a herd 
on a drive; also called drag rider. 

take a run 

Means making for a horse — to run 
to and mount one. 

take a squatter's right 

Often said of one thrown from a horse. 

take on 

A common reference to cattle's putting 
on flesh or fat. 

take the big jump 

To die. 

take the pins from under it 

To throw an animal by roping it 
either by forefooting or heeling. 

take the slack out of his rope 

To defeat one, to place one at a dis- 

take to the tall timbers 

To run away, to be on the dodge. 

take to the tules 

Another expression meaning to run 
away; also is used in the sense of being 
on the dodge. 

Taking a Chance 

See grabbin' the brandin' iron by 
the hot end, playin' a hand with his eyes 

taking leather 

Grabbing the saddle horn when rid- 
ing a bucking horse. 

takin' up a homestead 

Said of one thrown from a horse ; also 
taking up land and improving it for a 


See augur, augurin' match, carajoing, 
chew it finer, chew the cud, Chinook, 

circular story, comeback, cow talk, 
coyotin' 'round the rim, cut the deck 
deeper, dally your tongue, diarrhea of 
the jawbone, flannel mouth, giggle talk, 
good comeback, grapevine telegraph, 
haze the talk, His saddle is slippin'., 
hobble your lip, leaky mouth, load, 
make medicine, medicine tongue, mix 
the medicine, moccasin mail, moccasin 
telegraph, more lip than a muley cow, 
mouthy, no medicine, powwow, range 
word, sign language, talking horse, talk 
like a Texan, talkin' talents, talk turkey, 
tie one to that, tongue oil, windies. 

talking horse 

The favorite subject of conversation 
with a group of cowmen. 

talkin' iron 

Slang name for a gun. 

talkin' load 

Just drunk enough to be loquacious. 

talkin' talents 

Ability to talk freely. 

talk like a Texan 

Said of one boastful of his work or 

talk turkey 

To mean business. 


See built high above his corns. 

tallow factory 

An establishment where cattle were 
cooked solely for the tallow they might 
produce. Places of this sort were estab- 
lished in Texas during the days imme- 
diately after the Civil War when cattle 
were plentiful and there were no mar- 
kets for them. 

tally branding 

Taking an inventory of cattle. 

tally hand 

A man selected to keep a record of 
the calves branded at the spring roundup. 
He was chosen for this position because 
of his honesty and clerical ability, though 
sometimes because of his physical inabil- 
ity to do more strenuous work. (Philip 
A. Rollins, The Cowboy [New York, 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936], 235.) 



tally man 

Same as tally hand. He was appointed 
by the roundup captain. He might be an 
older man, one recovering from an ill- 
ness, or one hurt in riding a horse the 
previous day, but he was chosen for his 
reputation for honesty. He had many 
opportunities to falsify his records, and 
upon his count depended an owner's esti- 
mate of the season's profit. Yet, through 
his own honesty and the ethics of the 
range, these things never entered his head. 
All the time calves were slithering to 
the fire, he chanted his tally, and as the 
number of unbranded calves grew small- 
er, the lines in his smudged and grimy 
book grew longer. At every lax moment 
he took the opportunity to sharpen a 
stub pencil, which was wearing down 

tally sheet 

The book or paper upon which the 
tally man's record was kept. 


A reservoir made by damming a 
stream, a reservoir of wood, concrete, or 
metal (as noun) ; to cook cattle for their 
tallow (as verb). 

tapadero (tah-pah-day'ro) 

From the Spanish tafaderas, which 
comes from the verb tafar, meaning to 
close or cover. It is a wedge-shaped piece 
of leather which covers the stirrup front 
and sides, but is open in the rear. Its 
literal meaning is toe-fender. The word 
is usually shortened to tafs. Made from 
heavy cowhide and occasionally rein- 
forced by a wooden frame, it is used 
mostly in the brush country to protect 
the rider's feet and stirrups from brush. 

tapaojos (tah-pah-o'hose) 

This Spanish word is also from tafar, 
to cover, plus ojos, eyes. A blind or eye- 
cover for animals. It is a strip of leather 
about three inches wide, fastened to the 
headstall of the hackamore and long 
enough to extend across the brow of the 
animal. It is used on mean or unbroken 
horses being mounted for the first time, 
and also on pack mules when loading, 
to keep them from getting excited. Amer- 
icans do not use tapaojos extensively. 
(Harold W. Bentley, Dictionary of Span- 

ish Terms in English [New York, Co- 
lumbia University Press, 1932], 205.) 

tarantula juice 

A slang name for whiskey. A few 
drinks of some of it would, in the words 
of Muley Metcalf, "have a man reelin' 
'round like a pup tryin' to find a soft 
spot to lie down in," or as another said, 
"knockin' 'round like a blind dog in a 
meat shop." 


Short for tarfaulin. The Westerner's 
name for any canvas not especially 
titled either fack covers or ivagon sheets. 
Usually it refers to the piece of canvas 
in which he rolls his bed when not in 
use and with which he covers himself 
at night. 


An all-wood machine, carved by hand 
from whatever wood the man of the 
house possesses and used for spinning 
the threads for making girths. Patterns 
vary, but all twirlers work on the same 
principle. All have wooden handles with 
a hollow toward one end, and near this 
hollowed end a handle is inset to extend 
at right angles. The wood of a much 
used twisting paddle takes on the ap- 
pearance of satinwood. Contact with oily 
hair and sweating hands give it a rich 
brown polish. (Brooks Taylor, "Girt 
Making," Cattleman, XXVII, No. 9 
[February, 194.1], 73~74-) 

tasting gravel 

Being thrown from a horse. 

tear squeezer 

Something sad, a sad story. 

techy as a teased snake 

Said of one in a bad humor, or one 
easy to anger. 


Originally an Indian conical-shaped 
tent made of buffalo hide and used by 
the Plains Indian, but also an idiom used 
by the cowman in referring to his home. 


See nut crackers, smooth mouth, tooth- 


Western Words 

teeth in the saddle 

Said of a saddle which causes sore 
backs. More riders have lost their jobs 
over back-eating saddles than any other 
one thing. Some of the early-day saddles, 
as one cowboy said, "could eat out of 
a wire corral in one night." 

teguas (te'gwas) 

Rawhide moccasins, ankle high, laced 
in front and undecorated, yet light and 
comfortable. Worn principally by Mexi- 
cans and Indians. 

telegraph him home 

Said when a man is hanged by using 
his own rope and a pole borrowed from 
Western Union. 

tellin 'a windy 

Relating a tall tale, telling a lie. 

tellin' off the riders 

Giving directions to each rider about 
where to start his drive for the roundup. 
See scattering the riders. 


Said of a horse when he shows signs 
of getting saddlesores or sore feet. 


See advertising a leather shop, Ar- 
buckle, early bouten, greener, green pea, 
Johnny -come -lately, lent, mail-order 
catalog on foot, mail-order cowboy, 
Monkey-Ward cowboy, new ground, 
phildoodle, pilgrim, pistols, punk, sav- 
age, shorthorn, skim-milk cowboy, 
stringin' a greener, tenderfoots. 


The name originally applied to im- 
ported cattle, but later attached to hu- 
mans new to the country; both cattle 
and humans are also called -pilgrims. 


A slang name for a saddle; also, as 
a verb, it means to travel on foot slowly. 

Texas butter 

The cowboy's name for gravy. Put 
some flour into the grease in which the 
steak was fried and let it bubble and 
brown, then add hot water and stir until 
it thickens. 

Texas Cakewalk 

A hanging. 

Texas fever 

Same as Spanish fever. 

Texas gate 

A makeshift gate made of barbed wire 
fastened to a pole. 

Texas skirt 

The style of square skirt used on the 
Texas saddles. 

Texas tie 

When a roper keeps the home end of 
his rope tied hard to his saddle horn, it 
is often called by this term, because most 
Texans use this method. 

There's a one-eyed man in the 

One of the commonest superstitions 
in the West is that bad luck will forever 
follow a man who plays poker with a 
one-eyed gambler. The superstition gave 
rise to this expression and means, "Look 
out for a cheat." 


See mavericker, pack rat. See also en- 
tries under rustler. 

thirty years' gathering 

What the cowboy calls his trinkets and 
plunder gathered through the years. 
Agnes Morley Cleaveland, in No Life 
For a Lady, tells a story of a cowboy 
on his way to a local roundup stopping 
at her ranch for a meal. While he was 
eating, something stampeded his string 
of horses and with them went the pack- 
horse carrying his bedroll. The man 
leaped from his chair shouting, "There 
goes the savin's of a lifetime!" 

three-legged riding 

This is what a Westerner calls riding 
with a tight rein and sawinqr on the 
horse's mouth with the bit. 

three-quarter rig 

A saddle having the cinch placed half- 
way between that of the center fire and 
the rim fire. 

three-quarter seat 

Said of a saddle whose leather seat 



covering extends only to the rear edge 
of the stirrup groove. 

three saddles 

The professional buster considers a 
horse broken after three rides, or, as he 
says, three saddles. 

three-up outfit 

A small ranch which, as one cowboy 
said, "Don't own 'nough beef to hold 
a barbecue." 

three-up screw 

Said of a cowboy working on a small 
ranch where three horses are considered 
enough for a mount. 


The leather strap fastening the bridle 
under the throat of the horse. 

throat-ticklin' grub 

The cowboy's name for the fancy 
food he never gets on the range. 

throw back 

When a bucking horse hurls itself 
backward intentionally, the trick of a 
killer; also to revert in type or in char- 
acter to an ancestral stock. 

throw down 

The act of covering one with a gun, 
the act of shooting. The high hammer 
of the frontier six-gun was not designed 
to be cocked by the thumb tip as are the 
hammers of modern double-action re- 
volvers, but by hooking the whole thumb 
over it and simply closing the hand for 
the first shot. The recoil throws the gun 
muzzle up in the air, the thumb is 
hooked over the hammer, and the gun 
cocks itself by its own weight when level. 
This is where the phrase throwing down 

throw dust 

To try to cover up, to deceive. 

throw gravel in his boots 

To shoot at one's feet. 

throw in 

To go into partnership. 


See bulldog, bull tailing, bust, calf on 
the ground, California, dog fall, fair 

ground, forefooting, hoolihaning, jerked 
down, rolling a calf, stretching out, 
tailing, take the pins from under it. 

throwing over 

Pushing stray cattle of outside brands 
toward their home range at the end of 
a roundup. 

throwing the steel 

Said of one using the spurs freely. 

throw lead 

The act of shooting a gun. 

Thrown From a Horse 

See bit the dust, chase a cloud, chew 
gravel, dirtied his shirt, dumped, dusted, 
eatin' gravel, flung him away, grassed 
him, grass huntin', Ketch my saddle!, 
kissed the ground, landed, landed fork 
end up, landed on his sombrero, lost 
his hat and got off to look for it, lost 
his horse, met his shadow on the ground, 
pickin' daisies, piled, spilled, sunned his 
moccasins, take a squatter's right, takin' 
up a homestead, tasting gravel, turned 
the pack, unload, went up to fork a cloud. 

throw out 

To stop a moving herd and move off 
the trail. The expression is used as 
"throw out the cattle and build camp"; 
also an animal cut from a herd. Also 
sometimes used in referring to a dilapi- 
dated human, as I heard one cowman 
say of such a man, "He looks like a 
throw out from a footsore remuda." 

throw the lines away 

To drive a team recklessly. 

thumb buster 

A name given the old-fashioned, 
single-action six-gun. 


A type of shooter who removes the 
trigger and guard from his gun and 
shoots by raising and releasing the ham- 
mer with his thumb. He does his shoot- 
ing at close quarters and relies upon 
speed for safety. 


Jabbing a horse with the thumbs to 
provoke further bucking. 

I6 5 

Western Words 

tied holster 

One tied down to the leg of the wearer 
to facilitate a quick draw, a good indi- 
cation of a professional gunman. There 
is a saying in the West, "The man who 
wears his holster tied down don't do 
much talkin' with his mouth." 

tie-down man 

One who ties his holster down to his 

tied reins 

Bridle reins tied together at the ends. 

tied to the ground 

Said when the cowboy drops his reins 
to the ground, knowing that his trained 
horse will be anchored just as surely as 
if he were actually tied. 


A term frequently used in speaking 
of a tie-man to distinguish him from a 


One keeping the home end of his rope 
tied to the saddle horn. Cowboys have 
scattered so much today that you can 
find both tie-men and dally men in all 
parts of the range, but as a rule they tie 
east of the Rockies and dally west of 
them. The tie-men use shorter ropes than 
the dally men and the ranges they ride 
are open and level. They are usually ex- 
pert ropers and have complete confi- 
dence in their ability to make successful 

The Texan ties his rope, and when he 
ropes anything, he figures on hanging to 
it. The Californian keeps his rope un- 
tied, and when he ropes anything, he has 
to take a dally around the saddle horn; 
then if his catch gets him into a jam he 
can turn loose. The Texan does not say 
much about this action, but the Cali- 
fornian knows what the Texan thinks, 
and he does not like those thoughts. 

Tie one to that. 

A phrase used by western storytellers 
at the conclusion of a wild tale, as if 
inviting the next man to tell a bigger 
one; now commonly used everywhere 
(W. S. Campbell [Stanley Vestal] to 

tie rope 

What the mecate is sometimes called; 
also a short rope used for hog-tying. See 


The cowboy's name for a convict, be- 
cause the latter is caged and wears 


Riding with the legs tightly gripping 
the sides of the horse, a manner of rid- 
ing which disqualifies a rider under 
rodeo rules, as he is supposed to scratch 
his horse with the spurs continuously. 




See heel-fly time, high-heeled time, 

time judge 

The timer during calf-roping and 
bulldogging contests. He corresponds to 
the referee of a prize fight in the other 


Slang name for a cheap, inferior spur. 


A cheap gambler ; also applied to oth- 
ers not proficient in their chosen pro- 

tip the hole card 

To give one's plans away. 


Another Argentine word, used as a 
contrast to overo. The color character- 
istics of this pinto are that the white 
originates at the back and rump and ex- 
tends downward, with the borders of 
markings generally smooth and regular. 
See overo. (George M. Glendenning, 
"Overos and Tobianos," Western Horse- 
man, VII, No. i [January-February, 
1942], 12.) 

Tom Horn 

Occasionally used in some sections as 
a slang name for rope. 

tongue oil 

Talking ability. 



tongue splitter 

A rustler who cruelly splits the calf's 
tongue to keep it from nursing and fol- 
lowing its mother. 

tonsil varnish 

Slang name for whiskey. 

too handy with a rope 

Said of a rustler. 

tool chest 

A bit to which contrivances have been 
added to make it cruel. The man who 
uses one of these is soon cold-shouldered 
off the range. 

too much spread 

Said of one who has the habit of brag- 
ging, picking quarrels, or otherwise 
making himself disagreeable. 

too thick to drink and too thin 
. to plow 

What the cowboy calls muddy water 
when he is forced to drink it. He might 
"have to chaw it 'fore he can swaller it," 
but if he's thirsty enough it's "damned 
good water." 


Looking into a horse's mouth to tell 
his age. 


The cowboy's idea of the best. The 
best roper is the top roper; the best rider, 
top rider; the best cutting horse, top 
cutter; and so on. Yet the best shooter 
is called a crack shot. 

top off 

To ride first, to take the rough edges 
off a horse. 

Topography and Vegetation 

See arroyo, Badlands, bench, black 
chaparral, black spot, boggy crossing, 
bosque, bottom, box canyon, brasada, 
brush country, buffalo wallow, butte, 
cactus, canyon, cedar brakes, chaparral, 
chaparro, cholla, coulee, cross canyon, 
crossing, cut-bank, down in the Skillet, 
draw, hogback, llano, mal pais, mesa, 
motte, paso, pinon, pup's nest, Quaker, 
sag, sendero, swag, tule, tumbleweed, 
yucca country. 

top railer 

A man who sits on the top rail of a 
corral and advises who should do the 
work and take the risks. 

top screw 

The foreman. 

tornado juice 

Another slang name for whiskey. 

toro (toh'ro) 

Spanish for bull. Sometimes used in 
the cow country. 

totin' stars on his duds 

Said of the Texas cowman, whose 
clothing was almost always decorated 
with stars. An old saying of the range 
is, "For a Texas puncher not to be totin' 
stars on his duds is most as bad as votin' 
the Republican ticket." 

touchin' leather 

Synonymous with pulling leather. 

tough lay 

Said of a ranch employing a bunch 
of badmen or gunmen. 


See cow town, honkytonk town, 
pueblo, town with the hair on. 

town with the hair on 

Said of a wild and woolly or tough 
town like those at the end of the old 
cattle trails. 


One expert in tracking or reading 


See back trail, blind trail, camping 
on his trail, cold trail, cut for sign, long- 
ear, plain trail, readin' sign, ridin' sign, 
sign, sliding the groove, tracker. 

trail blazer 

One who goes before, one who marks 
or blazes a new trail. 

trail boss 

The foreman of a trail herd. He had 
to know men and cattle; he had to be 
aggressive, quick to handle an emer- 
gency, and resourceful. It is said that a 


Western Words 

good trail boss fed his hands out of his 
herd, lost a few en route, and yet got to 
his destination with more cattle than he 
had when the owner counted them out 
as they left the home range. He belonged 
to the class of men who made cattle his- 
tory in bossing the herds up the long 
trail north from Texas. The world will 
never see his like again. 

trail broke 

Said of cattle after they became used 
to the trail. 

trail count 

Counting cattle as they were strung 
off on a trail drive. After the cattle left 
the bed-ground in the morning and were 
strung out in a thin line, the trail boss 
selected a man to be stationed opposite 
him on the other side of the passing herd. 
Both men selected an imaginary line 
upon which they stationed themselves, 
and as the cattle passed between them, 
their forefingers rose and fell as they 
pointed directly to each animal that 
passed. As each hundred head was 
counted, each man dropped a pebble into 
a handy pocket, tied a knot in his horn 
string, or used any other counter his in- 
dividual selection dictated. When the 
herd had passed, each man counted his 
counters and announced to the other his 
tally for comparison. The chances were 
that their first count checked. If it did 
not, and there was a very wide margin 
of difference, they rode to the head of 
the moving herd and started over again. 
(Editorial, Cattleman, XXI, No. 4 [Sep- 
tember, 1934], 26.) 

trail cutter 

A man employed, usually by stock as- 
sociations, to halt marching herds and 
inspect them for cattle which did not 
properly belong with them. 

trail days 

The days when long trails were thor- 
oughfares for great herds of cattle. Such 
a spectacle, as a business, will never be 
seen in the world again. 

trail driver 

A cowhand engaged in driving cattle 
over the long trails, usually one of the 
interstate trails leading from Texas. 

trail driving 

The act of moving cattle on the trail. 
It was called driving, but cattle were 
trailed, not driven. Instead, they were 
kept headed in the direction the drover 
desired them to go as they grazed. In 
this manner they would travel ten or 
twelve miles a day and fatten as they 
went. The only times they were driven 
was to get them away from familiar ter- 
ritory when they first left the home range, 
to tire them down in an effort to avoid 
stampedes, or to reach food and water 
in sections where these were scarce. 

trail hand 

Another name for a man engaged in 
trailing cattle. Every Texas range-bred 
boy was ambitious to "go up the trail." 
It gave him an opportunity to break the 
monotony of range life and offered a 
chance to "see the world." 

trail herd 

A bunch of cattle, guarded day and 
night, being trailed from one region to 
another. A trail herd usually traveled in 
single file, or in twos and threes, form- 
ing a long, sinuous line, which, if seen 
from above, would look like a huge 
serpent in slow motion. 

Trail Terms 

See bedding down, big swimmin', 
bringin' up the drags, cut in, cutter 
herds, cut the trail, cutting the herd, 
drag, drag rider, drift, drive, dry drive, 
eatin' drag dust, excuse-me-ma'am, flank 
rider, following the tongue, haze, head 
'em up, keeping up the corners, layover, 
lay-up, lead men, lead steer, Little Mary, 
night drive, over the willows, point rid- 
ers, pounding 'em on the back, regular, 
ridin' 'em down, road brand, squeeze 
'em down, startin' the swim, swimming 
water, swing riders, tailings, tail riders, 
throw out, trail boss, trail count, trail 
cutter, trail days, trail driver, trail driv- 
ing, trail hand, trail herd, trail wagon, 
trimmin' the herd, up the trail, water- 
ing the herd. 

trail wagon 

One fastened behind another wagon 
in moving camp. 


Any freak saddle. 



trap a squaw 

To get married. 

trap corral 

A corral for capturing wild horses or 
cattle. The gate opens easily inward and 
closes behind so that the animals can not 

trapper's butter 

Marrow from the bones of a killed 
animal. Sometimes this was put into a 
gallon of water and heated nearly to the 
boiling point, then blood from the ani- 
mal was stirred in until a thick broth 
was made. 

travels the lonesome places 

Said of one on the scout, a man who 
"ain't on speakin' terms with the law." 


The wooden frame of the saddle which 
is covered with leather. The saddle usual- 
ly takes its name from the shape of its 
tree, such as California, Visalia, Frazier, 
Ellenburg, or Brazos. 

treeing the marshal 

A common saying in the old days. On 
their return from a trip up the trail, the 
cowboys liked to brag about how they 
made the marshal of the town at the end 
of the trail "hide out." 

tree ring 

The metal ring to which the latigo 
straps are fastened. 

trigger is delicate 

Said of one quick tempered or quick 
to shoot over a grievance. 

trigger itch 

Said of one quick to shoot. 

trigueno (tre-gay'nyo) 

Spanish, meaning swarthy, brownish. 
The Southwest uses this word to desig- 
nate a brown horse. 

trimmin' the herd 

The act of cutting cattle from a herd. 
The expression is usually employed when 
a trail cutter cuts the herd. 


See cut his wolf loose, hell bent for 

trouble, hellin' 'round town, hell with 
the hide off, lookin' for someone, sharpen 
his horns, tail over the lines, too much 

trunk strap 

A latigo strap which buckles. Used in 
the sense of ridicule. 


See He'll do to ride the river with., 
measure a full sixteen hands high, square, 
standby, straight as a wagon tongue, up 
and down as a cow's tail. 

tryin' to chin the moon 

Said of a horse standing on his hind 
feet and pawing the air with his front 
ones ; also said of a high bucker. 

tucker bag 

A bag for personal belongings. Not a 
commonly used term. 

Tucson bed 

Sleeping in the open without cover, 
or, in the cowboy's language, "usin' yore 
back for a mattress and yore belly for a 

tule (tu'le) 

In the Southwest the name is applied 
to the yucca and certain kinds of reeds. 
When a man "takes to the tules," he goes 
into hiding or is on the dodge. 


Men or cattle native of the tulares, or 
country of tules. 


A Russian thistle which, when dry, 
rolls before the wind. These plants roll 
and jump great distances, scattering their 
seeds as they go. One old-timer said he 
"reckoned" the Lord put tumbleweeds 
here "to show how the wind blows." 
Also a man with roving proclivities is 
called a tumbleweed. 

tumbling brand 

A brand leaning in an oblique position. 

turn a wildcat 

Said of a bucking horse. 

turned the cat 

When a horse falls after stepping into 
a doghole. 


Western Words 

turned the pack 

Said when a horse throws his rider. 

turned through himself 

Said when a horse stops quickly and 
turns in another direction. 

turning the grass upside down 


turn-out time 

Time in the spring to turn cattle out 
to grass. 

twelve-hour leggins 

Slang name for chaps. 


Slang name for rope. 


Either short for bronc twister, or an- 
other name for the twitch ; also a cyclone. 


A nickname for the longhorns because 
of the many different twists and turns 
of their horns. 

twisting down 

The act of twisting a steer's neck in 
bulldogging until it falls upon its side. 


A small loop of cord with a stick 
through it, used to punish a held horse. 
The loop is placed vertically around the 
animal's upper lip and then tightened 
by twisting the stick. (Philip A. Rollins, 
The Cowboy [New York, Charles Scrib- 
ner's Sons, 1936], 152.) It is also called 
a twister, and some claim this is where 
the term bronc twister originated. 

two-buckle boy 

Farm hand. 

two-gun man 

A man who wears two guns and can 
shoot with either hand. This species was 
rare, even in the old West, and exists 
mostly in fiction. It's a rare case when 
two guns have any advantage over one. 
Their chief advantage is that they make 
a threat of an ace in the hole as a show 
of force when a lone man stacks against 
a crowd. The two-gun man, when 
among strangers, has to be careful with 
the motions of both hands, thus being 
handicapped in doing little things other 
men can do. He is, as a cowhand would 
say, "dressed to kill." 

two jumps ahead of the sheriff 

Said of one dodging the law. As one 
of them told me, he "didn't have to leave 
Texas. The sheriff come to the state line 
and jes' begged, me to come back." 

two-up driver 

A driver of two spans, or four horses. 

two whoops and a holler 

Only a short distance. 

tying down 

Roping and catching an animal and 
tying it down by three of its feet against 
time. See hog-tying. 

tying fast 

Using the home end of the rope tied 
to the horn of the saddle in roping. See 


"Tossirt your rope before buildirt a loop donH ketch the calf 

uncorkin' a bronc 

Taking off the rough edges. 


An earmark made by doubling the ear 
in and cutting a small piece, about an 
inch, out of the lower part of the ear, 

an inch in length and usually one-third 
of that in depth. 


An earmark made by simply cutting 
up on the underside of the ear for about 
an inch. 




An earmark made by splitting the ear 
from the tip, midway, about halfway 
back toward the head, and cutting- off 
the lower half. 

underhand pitch 

This is strictly a heel loop for use on 
cattle. It can be used on foot in a corral, 
but is a favorite catch for mounted men 
working on roundup. It is about the only 
loop for which it is permissible to whirl 
while working among cattle and it is 
whirled very slowly, just enough to keep 
it moving. The loop is kept in motion 
at the right side of the thrower in a ver- 
tical plane, swinging up. When the ob- 
ject to be roped passes in front, the roper 
brings the rope around with a snap to 
give it carrying power and turns the 
loop loose over the back side of the hand 
as it swings forward. This pitches the 
loop, standing up, under the animal's 
belly so that he can jump into it with his 
hind feet. The right hand continues to 
hold the rope, as is the case in most heel- 
ing and forefooting throws, and the slack 
is jerked out at once. (W. M. French, 
"Ropes and Roping," Cattleman, XXVI, 
No. 12 [May, 1940], 17—30.) 


An earmark made by cutting a half- 
circle from the bottom of the ear. 


An earmark made by cutting the ear 
about two-thirds of the way back from 
the tip straight to the center of the ear 
at its lower side. 


An earmark made by splitting the ear 
from the lower edge to about the center. 


The cowboy's contemptuous name for 


See blind as a snubbin' post, chuckle- 
headed as a prairie dog, throw dust. 


To unhitch a team from a wagon. 
The cowboy never uses the words hitch 
and unhitch. 


Said when a horse bucks off his rider. 

unravel some cartridges 

To shoot. 


To take the rough edges off a horse. 


Naked; when used as a gun term, one 
is said to have unshucked his gun, mean- 
ing that he has drawn it from the holster, 
thus making it a naked gun. 


See His cinch is gettin' frayed, saddle 
a dead horse on him. 


Said when a horse starts bucking. 

up and down as a cow's tail 

Said of an honest and trustworthy per- 

up the trail 

Driving cattle up the trail. This be- 
came a profession during the years be- 
tween the middle sixties and the eighties, 
and experienced trail drivers were in de- 

use him to trim a tree 

To hang one. 

using his rope arm to h'ist a glass 

Said of one drinking. 

I 7 I 

Western Words 


"The bigger the mouth the better it looks when shut" 

vaca (vah'cah) 

Spanish for cow. 

vacada (Vah-cah'dah) 

A drove of cows. 


Americanized from the Spanish word 
vamos (vah'mose), meaning let's go. 
The cowboy uses it to mean get to hell 
out of here. 

vaquero (vah-kay'ro) 

The word comes from the Spanish 
vaca (cow) with the suffix ero and means 
one engaged in working with cows. Al- 
though commonly used in the Southwest 
with reference to cowboys in general, 
it means more particularly Mexican 

velvet couch 

The cowboy's slang name for his bed- 

vent brand 

From the Spanish venta (ven f tah), 
meaning sale. When used as a noun, it 
means a brand placed upon an animal 
that has been given an ownership brand 
and later sold, and has the effect of can- 

celling the ownership brand, thus serv- 
ing as the acknowledgment of a sale. It 
is usually placed on the same side of the 
animal as the original brand. As a verb, 
it means the act of putting on such a 
brand. See counter brand. 


From the Spanish vigilante (ve-he- 
lahn' tay) , meaning watchman or guard. 
The American pronounces it vig-i-lan'te 
and uses it to mean men who organize 
themselves to take the enforcement of 
the law into their own hands; a volun- 
teer committee of citizens to suppress 
and punish crime when the law seems 


See hemp committee, vigilantes. 


Saddle; short for a saddle made on a 
Visalia tree. 

visiting harness 

What the cowman sometimes calls his 
"town clothes." 


What the cowboy calls an Indian scalp. 


l Ifs sometimes safer to pull your freight than pull your gun" 


A throw line tied to the forefoot of a 
horse, then run up through a ring in the 
belly-band and back to the wagon ; used 
to break a wild horse to harness. If the 
horse starts to run away, a pull on this 
rope will immediately trip him. 


It is claimed by some that waddy was 
created by the cowman from the word 
wad, which he uses to mean one who 
fills in or rounds out a ranch outfit in 
busy times (Don, "Vaquero Lingo," 
Western Horseman, IV, No. 2 [March— 



April, 1936], 16). In the spring and 
fall when some ranches are short-handed, 
they take on anyone who is able to ride 
a horse and use him for a week or so; 
hence the word waddy, derived from 
wadding — anything to fill in. 

Some cowmen used the word to mean 
a genuine rustler, or one faithful to his 
fellows and his illegal calling; later it 
was applied to any cowboy. 

wagon, the 

The roundup wagon, the cowboy's 
home during the roundup; sometimes 
called the works, sfread, or layout. All 
of the various wagons upon the range 
are designated by their specific names, 
but when the cowman speaks of the 
wagon, every range man knows he is 
talking of the chuck wagon. See chuck 

wagon boss 

The man in charge of the roundup. 
He stands out above the rank and file. 
One who knows the cow country can 
ride up on an outfit at a chuck wagon 
or in a branding pen, for the first time, 
and go straight to the boss, though he 
be hard at work and dressed like the 
others of the outfit. His appearance and 
attitude denote leadership. He is a prod- 
uct of the hard school of the range. 
(John M. Hendrix, "Bosses," Cattle- 
man, XXIII, No. 10 [March, 1937], 
65-75-) He is usually quiet, with a cer- 
tain measure of reserve, and has to have 
a better than average intelligence in 
order to understand the nature of the 
cowhand. He has to arrange each man's 
work and place, day and night, with- 
out appearing to give orders; and this 
calls for both tact and understanding. 
See rounduf caftain. 

wagon herder 

A sheepherder with a wagon. 

wagon manners 

A term used to describe good behavior. 

Wagons and Appurtenances 

See band wagon, bed-wagon, bitch, 
blattin' cart, buckboard, caboose, cake 
wagon, calf wagon, Chihuahua cart, 
chip wagon, chuck wagon, curia, demo- 
crat wagon, fence wagon, fly, grass train, 

groanin' cart, growler, hoodlum wagon, 
hook up, holligan wagon, hubbing, jerk- 
line, jerk-linestring, jewelry chest, mani- 
ac den, mess wagon, Mormon brakes, 
pie-box, pie wagon, possum-belly, prai- 
rie schooner, sheet, shotgun wagon, 
throw the lines away, trail wagon, un- 
hook, wagon, wagon herder, wheel 
house, Which way's the wagon? 

wagon-spoke rowel 

A spur with an extra-long shank sup- 
porting widely spaced rowels about six 
inches long and resembling the spokes 
of a wagon wheel. 

Walker pistol 

An early frontier revolver made by 
Colt after the suggestions of Captain 
Samuel Walker, a Texas Ranger, and 
named after him. 

walkin' beamin' 

The see-saw effect of a bucking horse, 
when he lands alternately on his front 
and hind feet. 


See high heel, straddlin' down the 

walking brand 

One with lower designs like feet. 

walking down 

A method of capturing wild horses 
which calls for following them in re- 
lays fast enough to keep them in sight 
and give them no chance to rest or eat. 
After several days of this chase the mus- 
tangs are exhausted enough that the 
riders can approach them and begin to 
control their turnings in any desired di- 
rection. This has been known to have 
been accomplished by men on foot. 

walkin' sheep 

Synonymous with herding sheep; the 
term is applied because the work is done 
on foot. 

walkin' stick 

A humorous reference to a horse of a 
long-legged puncher. 

walkin' the fence 

Said when cattle walk continuously up 
and down the fence line in an effort to 


Western Words 

find a way to break out. Also used in 
referring- to a nervous or impatient man. 

walkin' whiskey vat 

A heavy drinker. 


Said of a horse with glass, blue, or 
"china" eyes and with an irregular blaze. 

wallow in velvet 

To have plenty. Often one hears a 
prosperous person spoken of as having 
" 'nough money to burn a wet mule," 
or, "He had a roll as big as a wagon- 

waltz with the lady 

A shout of encouragement for the 
rider to stay with a bucking horse. 


Said of a man desired by the law. 


The cowboy's sack or bag for personal 
belongings, in which he keeps all the 
useless ditties and dofunnies he has gath- 
ered through the years. Here he keeps 
his supply of makin's and cigarette pa- 
pers, an extra spur, some whang leather, 
an extra cinch or bit, and perhaps a care- 
fully wrapped picture of a girl or some 
tattered letters which have brought him 
news of the outside. Among this plunder, 
too, there will likely be a box of cart- 
ridges, a greasy deck of playing cards, 
a bill of sale for his private horse, and 
his low-necked clothes. 


Larvae of the heel fly. The eggs hatch 
on the hair, and the tiny larvae burrow 
into the skin, causing itching and dis- 
comfort. Also called cattle grubs and 

war bonnet 

A slang name for the cowboy's hat. 

war bridle 

A brutal hitch of rope in the mouth 
and around the lower jaw of the horse. 


See cuidado, Go 'way 'round 'em, 
Shep., moccasin mail, send up a smoke, 
shook a rope at him, smoke signal. 

warps his backbone 

Said of a horse bucking with arched 

washerwoman loop 

A big, flat loop. 

washin' out the canyon 

The cowboy's expression for taking 
a bath. 

wash off the war-paint 

To get over an angry spell, to back 
down from a fight. One cowhand describ- 
ing such an incident said, "When he 
looked into the danger end o' that scat- 
ter-gun, it didn't take 'im long to pull 
in his horns." 

wasp nest 

The cowboy's name for light bread. 


A nickname for an outlaw horse. 

waste a loop 

To throw a rope and miss the target. 

wasted 'er 

When a rider dashes off after a cow 
which has escaped from the herd and 
fails in his attempt to bring her back 
he is said to have wasted, 'er. 

watchin' the op'ra 

Sitting on the top rail of the corral 
fence watching a fellow puncher ride a 
bad horse. 


See beef tea, gypped, too thick to drink 
and too thin to plow, washin' out the 
canyon, water hole, water rights, water- 

water hole 

A place for watering cattle; also a 
slang name for a saloon. 

watering the herd 

This means more than herding the cat- 
tle toward water and letting them go of 
their own accord. Watering a trail herd 
is quite an art. A good trail boss starts 
slowing his herd up some distance be- 
fore he hits the river. As he brings them 
to the water, he spreads them along the 
bank, heading the lead cattle down- 



stream. Thus they get clear water, and 
as the others come up, they are hazed up- 
stream, so that all cattle, including the 
drags, get clear water because they drink 
above each last successive group. 

If the cattle were allowed to hit the 
river in a bunch, the lead cattle would 
be forced to the other side before they 
got sufficient water, and all the water 
would be muddied. As a rule, cattle are 
watered only once a day, in the evening. 
Charles Goodnight once said that "the 
science of the trail is in grazing and 
watering the cattle, but the watering is 
the most important of the two." 

watermelon under the saddle 

Said of a horse that arches his back 

water rights 

The right to a "piece of water" by 
priority of occupation. 


Said of a person not particular about 
body cleanliness. Rip Gunter, telling of 
an unusually dirty cook, who was "con- 
siderably whiffy on the lee side" and 
working with a certain wagon, said, 
"He's always got his jowls full o' Cli- 
max, and ain't none particular where he 
unloads it, and his clothes are so stiff 
with beef blood and dry dough y'u'd 
have to chop 'em off." 

We were kidding a certain puncher 
about being water-shy, and he answered 
right back: "I ain't afraid o' water. In 
fact I like a little of it for a chaser once 
in a while." 

water trap 

A stout corral built in plain sight and 
around a spring or watering place. It 
has a wide gate which is sprung after 
the animals enter for watering. 


A mark of ownership made on the 
neck or the jaw of an animal by pinch- 
ing up a quantity of skin and cutting 
it, but not entirely off. When the wound 
is healed, a hanging flap of skin is left. 

wave 'round 

To wave a hat or other object in a 
semicircle from left to right, which, in 

the sign language of the plains, means 
you are not wanted and to stay away. 
On the range, when a rustler happens to 
have a maverick calf tied down at a 
branding fire and sees a rider approach- 
ing in the distance, he jerks his hat off 
and waves this rider 'round. If his warn- 
ing is not heeded, he has the advantage 
of a .30— .30 which he is not afraid to 
use, and the "whine of a bullet is a hint 
in any man's language." 


See His thinker is puny, paper-backed. 


A calf old enough to wean, slang 
name for a young child. 

wearin' calluses on his elbow 

Said of one spending his time in a 


See blizzard, blue whistler, Chinook, 
cow skinner, dry storm, fence lifter, fox- 
fire, goose drownder, gully-washer, hell 
wind, Idaho brain storm, norther, Okla- 
homa rain, open winter, pitted, silver 
thaw, twister. 


A horse that employs a peculiar weav- 
ing motion and whose feet never strike 
the ground in a straight line when buck- 
ing. This motion is most disconcerting to 
a rider. 

wedding ring 

A trick-roping stunt done by swinging 
a wide, horizontal loop with the per- 
former in the middle as it swings around 
him. It can be performed either on foot 
or on horseback, and takes a strong 
wrist and arm and above the average 

wedgers in 

People who come uninvited, meddlers. 


Locoed. Said of an animal addicted 
to eating loco weeds. 

week on the bed-wagon 

Meaning that a sick or injured man 
will not be able to ride again for about 
that long. 


Western Words 

went up to fork a cloud 

Said of a rider who had been thrown 
high from a horse. 

wet stock 

Cattle or horses which had been smug- 
gled from across the Rio Grande River 
after having been stolen from their 
rightful owners in Mexico or Texas. 
Later the term was used to refer to any 
stolen stock. 

whale line 

A slang name for rope. 


A brand with a group of interlocking 
wings and with no central flying figure. 

whang strings 

Long strings attached to the saddle 
for tying on things; another name for 
saddle strings, especially when made of 

wheel horse 

The rear horse of a jerk-line string. 

wheel house 

A canvas-covered wagon. 


An inferior horse, a pot-gutted ani- 

Which way's the wagon? 

The old-time trail driver's familiar 
greeting when he rode upon a trail out- 
fit. The wagon was always the place 
where he sought company, food, or in- 

while the gate's still open 

To the cowman this term is synony- 
mous with opportunity. 


The playful bucking indulged in by 
both horse and rider in the spirit of fun ; 
also a party or social affair. 

whip breaking 

Training a horse, usually in a corral, 
by stinging his rump with a whip or 
the end of a rope every time he turns 
from you. In time, from the pain, he 
will turn toward you, and if you back 

away each time and drag your whip, he 
will begin to understand what you want 
him to do. Very few cowmen use this 
method. (Will James, In the Saddle 
With Uncle Bill [New York, Charles 
Scribner's Sons, 1935], 58—59.) 

whippin' a tired pony out of 

This term became a synonym for on 
the dodge. 


See chapping, clean his plow, clipped 
his horns, hang up his hide, horns sawed 
off, leggin' case, puttin' the leggin's, 
sharpen his hoe. 


See blacksnake, bull whip, cow whip, 
quirt, quisto, romal. 


Whirling the noose of a rope about 
the head until sufficient spread is de- 
veloped to make a throw at the object 
to be roped. The whirl is never used in 
a corral, especially the horse corral, as 
it alarms the animals. 


See base-burner, brave-maker, bug 
juice, coffin varnish, conversation fluid, 
dynamite, fire-water, gut-warmer, In- 
dian whiskey, neck-oil, nose-paint, red 
disturbance, red-eye, red-ink, scamper 
juice, snake-head whiskey, snake poison, 
tarantula juice, tonsil varnish, tornado 
juice, wild mare's milk. 

whiskey mill 

A frontier name for the saloon. 


Slang name for any one young and 


The cowboy's name for beans. 

whistle judge 

An imposing Westerner in the rodeo 
stand who blows a whistle at the end of 
ten seconds in bronc riding contests. 

white-collar rancher 

A nonresident ranch owner. 




Hereford cattle; also called of en- 
faced cattle. 

white house 

Slang name for the main house of the 
ranch, or owner's home; the executive 

white-water bucko 

A good river driver. 


Slang name for a good cutting horse. 

whittle whanging 

Wrangling, quarreling. 

whole shebang 

A collective whole. 


An Indian hut of primitive construc- 
tion made of branches of trees loosely 
interwoven. Sometimes used colloquially 
by cowmen in referring to their own 


An Indian dwelling, generally of 
conical shape, formed of bark and mats 
or hides laid over stakes planted in the 
ground and converging at the top, 
where there is an opening for smoke to Wind-belly 
escape. Also used by the cowman in 
speaking humorously of his residence. 

wild, woolly, and full o' fleas 

A phrase of the early days which the 
cowboy created to impress the tender- 
foot with his woolliness. The saying be- 
came so common that some people ac- 
tually believed the cowboy had fleas, but 
actually he has no more love for fleas 
than any other man. As one said, he had 
"rather have gray-backs than fleas 'cause 
after these seam squirrels graze, they 
bed down, but a flea's never satisfied. 
After he locates paydirt on one claim 
he jumps to stake another, and he's a 
damned nimble prospector." 

willow tail 

A horse, usually a mare, which has a 
loose, long, coarse, heavy tail — never an 
indication of good breeding. 


An early model repeating rifle named 
for its maker and still a favorite with 

Winchester quarantine 

A barrier by force of arms. These 
quarantines occurred many times in the 
early West, especially on the trail when 
some group of natives objected to a tick- 
infested trail herd's passing through their 


See snuffy. 

wild bunch 

An outlaw gang, horses not handled 
enough to be controllable. 

wild cow milking 

A rodeo event. A wild cow is turned 
loose in the arena. Two cowboys dash 
after her; one ropes the animal, then 
the other mugs her. After this, the roper 
runs on foot carrying a pop bottle and 
tries to obtain about an inch of milk in 
it. After securing the milk, he runs to 
the judges to show it. He does all this 
against time. 

wild mare's milk 

Slang name for whiskey. 

An orphan calf, all belly, or as the 
cowboy would say, "fat in the middle 
and pore at both ends." 


One or more rows of trees, a tall fence, 
or a natural formation on the windward 
side providing shelter from cold winds. 


Said of a horse with a respiratory 
disease that impairs his breathing. 


Cattle that have to be driven out of 
canyons on to the plains. These cattle 
are usually contrary and hard to drive, 
and by the time they have been coaxed 
out of the canyon, the cattle, the horses, 
and the cowboys are about exhausted, 
hence the name ; also the name of boast- 
ful stories which contain no semblance 
of the truth. 


Western Words 


See corral dust, hassayampa, load, 
Pecos Bill, peddler of loads, stretchin' 
the blanket, tellin' a windy, wild, wooly, 
and full o' fleas, windies. 


A man who cares for the windmills 
of the later-day ranch. Only the large 
ranches hire a man for this special duty. 
With a helper he is kept busy building 
new windmills and keeping the old ones 
in repair. 


Said of a horse when he is swapping 

windmill monkey 

A man who oils and repairs wind- 
mills, because he has to do considerable 
climbing to do the job well. 

wing fence 

A fence on each side of a corral en- 
trance which flares out for many feet to 
help direct the leaders of the entering 
herd into the opening of the pen. 

winter horses 

Horses kept up for use in winter. 

winter kill 

Cattle which die from the winter cold, 


The cowboy's slang name for his neck- 
erchief. It has more uses than almost any- 
thing else he wears and is not merely 
an ornamental necktie, as many folks 
think. The rodeo rider prefers bright 
colors in neckerchiefs as in shirts; but 
the range man, who wants to dodge the 
attention of either people or animals, 
since bright colors advertise him when 
he is trying to avoid notice, prefers neu- 
tral colors. 

Folding his neckerchief diagonally, 
like the first garment he ever wore, he 
ties the two farthest corners in a square 
knot and hangs it on the peg he finds 
handiest — his neck. In this way he is 
never without it in case he needs it, and 
he generally does. Mostly he wears it 
draped loosely over his chest with the 
knot at the back. If the sun is at his back 
he reverses it for the protection of his 

neck. Riding in the drag of a herd, he 
pulls it up over his nose and mouth so 
that he can breathe without being suffo- 
cated by the dust that is kicked up. It 
is a protection against cold wind and 
stinging sleet. Pulled up under his eyes, 
it guards against snow blindness. (J. 
Frank Dobie, Vaquero of the Brush Coun- 
try [Dallas, Southwest Press, 1929], 
264; Philip A. Rollins, The Cowboy 
[New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 
1936], 107.) 

If he is riding in a stiff wind and 
does not have bonnet strings on his hat, 
he ties it on with his bandanna; some- 
times, when the weather is cold, he uses 
it for an ear-muff, and when it is hot, 
he will wear it wet under his hat to 
keep his head cool. Caught in a country 
where there is no running water when 
he is thirsty, he spreads it over a muddy 
water hole to use as a strainer to drink 

When he washes his face at the water 
hole in the morning, he carries his towel 
with him, tied around his neck. In the 
branding pen when the sweat is running 
down into his eyes, this mop is hanging 
handy, and it also makes a rag for hold- 
ing the handle of a hot branding iron. 

Perhaps he uses it as a blindfold in 
saddling a snaky bronc, or as a piggin' 
string when he runs across a calf that 
has been overlooked in branding. He 
sometimes uses it to hobble his horse; 
one end tied to the lower jaw of a gentle 
horse serves as an Indian bridle that will 
do in a pinch. It has been used as a sling 
for broken arms, a tourniquet, and a 
bandage for wounds. Men have been 
handcuffed with neckerchiefs and more 
than one cowboy has been buried out on 
the plains with one spread over his face 
to keep the dirt from touching it. 

It can be used as a saddlebag, a mos- 
quito net, or a trail marker; it has been 
used as a flag for signaling, a dish cloth, 
a recoil pad, a gun sling, a basket, and a 
sponge; and the highwayman has used 
it for a mask. 

wipin' him out 

Quirting a horse. 


See California buckskin, silk. 



wisdom bringer 

A schoolteacher. As most of these 
teachers were imported from the East, 
the cowman did not have much respect 
for their knowledge. To him, anyone 
who did not know cows "couldn't teach 
a settin' hen to cluck." 


See bone seasoned, hair off the dog, 
more wrinkles on his horns, out fox, 


A mail-order catalog. Many cow- 
boys got their education from one of 
these wishbooks, and by studying the 
pictures knew what practically every- 
thing on earth was before they ever saw 
the real article. The women of the ranch 
did their wishful window-shopping in its 
pages, and it was not uncommon to see 
some cowboy thumbing through its thick- 
ness, lingering with a lot of wonder on 
the pages picturing women's personal 
wearing apparel. 

witches' bridle 

Tangles in a horse's mane. 


The first cattle the Indians saw under 
the white man's control were the ox 
teams of the early freighters. Listening 
with wonder to the strange words of the 
bullwhackers as they shouted, "Whoa," 
"Haw," and "Gee," they thought these 
words were the name of the animals, and 
began calling cattle ivohaws. Rarely did 
a trail herd pass through the Indian 
country on its march north that it was 
not stopped to receive a demand for 
<woha<w. This demand become so com- 
mon that the cattlemen themselves began 
to use the word and it became a part of 
their vocabulary. (J. Frank Dobie, The 
Longhorns [Boston, Little, Brown, 
1 941], 251; George W. Saunders to 


Not only a predatory animal of the 
cattle country, but also what the cowboy 
calls a cattle grub hatched from the eggs 
of the heel fly. 


A man hired by the ranch to trap and 

hunt wolves on its particular range. He 
matches wits with this most cunning of 
animals for the bounty paid, both by 
the rancher and the county in which he 


See calico, calico queen, catalog wom- 
an, cookie pusher, cow bunny, dulce, 
heart-and-hand woman, live dictionary, 
long-haired partner, Montgomery Ward 
woman sent west on approval, painted 
cat, puncture lady, runnin' mate, sage 


A slang name for the saddle. 

wood monkey 

A flunky or man responsible for sup- 
plying wood for a roundup camp. 

wood pussy 

A skunk. 

wood sheller 

Cutter of fence posts and branding 


A common name for sheep. 

wool in his teeth 

Said of a person of low principle, im- 
plying that he is a sheep-killing cur. 


Slang name for a cheap hat, usually 
made of wool. Ross Santee tells a good 
story of a cowhand named Shorty let- 
ting a cow-town merchant sell him a 
cheap hat so much too large for him that 
he had to stuff five lamp-wicks under 
the sweat band to make it fit. 

" 'It's pourin' rain when I leaves 
town, [says Shorty] and the old hat 
weighs a ton. I ain't any more than start- 
ed when it's down over both ears, an' 
by the time I hit Seven Mile it's leakin' 
like a sieve. I'm ridin' a bronc that's 
pretty snuffy, an' every time I raises the 
lid enough to git a little light, I see him 
drop one ear. I finally decides to take 
the lamp-wicks out altogether. I'm tryin' 
to raise the lid enough to see somethin' 
besides the saddle-horn when the old 
bronc bogs his head. I make a grab for 
leather when he leaves the ground, but 


Western Words 

I might as well have a gunny-sack tied 
over my head, for I can't see nothin'. 
When he comes down the second time 
I'm way over on one side. When he hits 
the ground the third jump, I ain't with 
him. I'm sittin' in the middle of the wash 
with both hands full of sand. I finally 
lifts the lid enough to see the old bronc 
headin' for the ranch. He's wide open 
and kickin' at his paunch.' " (Ross San- 
tee, Men and Horses [New York, The 
Century Company, 1921], 115.) 

wool with the handle on 

The cowboy's name for a mutton chop. 


What the cowboy calls hogs. 


A slang name for the Winchester rifle. 

wore 'em low 

This expression signifies that the one 
spoken of wears his gun low where it is 
easily accessible and that he is willing to 
stand or fall by his ability to use it. Very 
often it is used to mean that his gun is 
for hire, and that he is a professional 
gunman. Duke Noel used to say of one 
of them, "That hogleg hangin' at his 
side ain't no watch-charm, and he don't 
pack that hardware for bluff nor bal- 


A term applied to handling cattle. To 
round up stock, to brand calves, and to 
gather beeves is to work cattle. 


See sweat, work. 

work horse 

One used in harness. 

working ahead of the roundup 

An industrious rancher or cowhand 
can build a herd rapidly if he drives his 
cattle on the range ahead of the larger 
outfits and claims all unbranded stock. 
See So oners. 

working brands 

Changing brands from one type to 
another through the use of the running 

Working Cattle 

See chouse, cutting out, cuttin' the 
herd, gin around, mustard the cattle, 
pulling bog, tailing up, work, working 
the herd. 

working the herd 

Cattle gathered in circle on roundup 
for the purpose of cutting out the beef, 
breeding specimens, or other types de- 
sired. The expression is applied to cut- 
ting a large bunch into one or more 
smaller herds. 

work over 

To change a brand, to take the buck 
out of a horse. 


See he'll do to ride the river with, 
measured a full sixteen hands high, 


See cull, cultus, peal, plumb cultus, 
scalawag, scrub, stiff, worthless as a 
four-card flush. 

worthless as a four-card flush 

Anything worthless or beyond repair. 


See mining for lead, singed. 


An occasional name for the day 


To herd horses. 


A herder of the saddle horses. It is the 
duty of this man or boy to see that the 
horses are kept together and at hand 
when wanted for the work. The word is 
a corruption of the Mexican caverango, 
meaning hostler. 

His job is considered the most menial 
in cow work and he does not stand very 
high in a cow camp. He rides the sorriest 
horse in the outfit and is the butt of all 
the jokes of a dozen cowhands. Yet his 
job is a training school, and many good 
cowboys have gotten their start in a 
wrangler's job. 

By studying the characteristics of the 
various horses, he saves himself much 



work and grief. He knows which are 
apt to be bunch quitters, which are fight- 
ers, and which are afraid of their own 
shadows. The arrival of stray men with 
their strings adds to his cares, and he has 
more horses to get acquainted with. Al- 
though it can rarely be said, the greatest 
praise that can be bestowed upon a 
wrangler is that "he never lost a horse." 


See caverango, cavvy man, dew 
wrangler, hood, horse pestler, horse 
rustler, horse wrangler, jingler, jing- 
ling, mustangler, night herd, remudero, 
rustler, wrangatang, wrangler, wrango. 


Short for wrangler. 

wrastlin' calves 

A common expression for flanking. 

wreck pan 

The receptacle for the dirty dishes 

after a meal in a cow camp. See round 


A horse of nervous disposition that 
has been ridden to exhaustion and 
spurred to make him go, causing him to 
develop the habit of wringing his tail 
as he runs. Jerking on the bits also de- 
velops this habit. No real cowman likes 
to ride a wring-tail horse, for it makes 
the rider nervous. 

wrinkled his spine 

An expression used when referring to 
the bucking of a horse. 


Cowboy's name for an old steer whose 
horns have become wrinkled and scaly. 

wrinkles on his horns 

Said of a person possessing wisdom or 
having had much experience. 


"Faint heart never filled a flush" 

Xerga (csay'gah) 

A saddle cloth placed between the 
salea and the packsaddle. 


"Nobody ever drowned himself in sweat" 


A stupid person. 


An Indian pony. 


A nickname given by the northern 

cowboy to the Mexican cattle which 
went up the trail, because they came 
from the Yaqui Indian country. 


Ordinary stealing, petty theft. 

yannigan bag 

A bag for personal belongings. 


Western Words 

yearling flank and belly with a yellowish color. 

A year-old calf or colt, a child. 

yellow bellies yucca country 

Cattle of Mexican breed splotched on A general reference to the Southwest. 


"Never call a man a liar because he knows more'n you do" 

zebra dun 

A horse of dun color with a more or 
less distinct dorsal stripe over the entire 
length of his top line, with often a trans- 
verse shoulder stripe and sometimes 
zebra stripes on the legs. 

zorrillas (thor-reeriyahs) 

Cattle of the early longhorn breed, 

called this in the border country from 
their color, which is black with a line- 
back, white speckles frequently appear- 
ing on the sides and belly. The word 
is from the Spanish, meaning folecat. 
(J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns, [Bos- 
ton, Little, Brown, 194.1], 24—25.) 

Adios, and may you never get your spurs tangled up 


Western Words 


has been composed on the Linotype 

in eleven point Janson and nine 'point Caslon 

and printed upon wove 

antique paper 


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